Caught in the eye of the storm

Bobbi Fisher

By Bobbi Fisher

On September 10, Hurricane Florence made her presence known on the weather radar with an alarming size. Forecasters predicted a strong Category 4 hurricane was headed toward the Wilmington, N.C., area – to include where I live and work as an official reporter in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Mandatory evacuations began for our area on Tue., Sept. 11. Mandatory evacuation means, if you choose to stay, you do so at your own risk; rescue attempts, if needed, may not be possible. Since we have only lived here for three years, we checked with our seasoned neighbors to see if they were going to evacuate or stay. Our angst grew when they told us they would leave for this projected monster of a storm.

Facebook Live is a wonderful tool to use to get live local weather updates without having to stay glued to a television. If you “like” your local news channel, they will send you notifications when live feeds are about to start so you can tune in. It also offers an opportunity to actually chat with your meteorologist to ask specific questions. I find it a wonderful tool for emergency planning.

With the generator fueled and ready to go and a few trips to the grocery store to stock up on cases of water and food supplies, we decided we would stay home and ride it out. We live about three miles from the oceanfront but far enough inland where storm surge wouldn’t really affect us.

Fisher Courthouse in Horry County, S.C. after Hurricane Florence

I am an official reporter for Family Court in Horry County (Conway/Myrtle Beach). My husband also works in the same courthouse building with me but for the Clerk of Court’s office. We had one hearing scheduled for Tuesday morning, so as I was heading in to court, my judge called me and told me to turn around and go home. By then, roads had already started to close and I wasn’t able to turn around where I was in the road because they literally had just put up barricades. I had to make a huge loop north and then turn back south to get back home. Roads were starting to shut down literally as the minutes were ticking away.

After returning home that morning, we started to watch The Weather Channel to track Hurricane Florence. They were now projecting it would come to Wilmington then turn a sharp southwest, heading straight over our house. It was then we decided we better evacuate to our family in Northern Virginia. This began the task of packing everything we could. We have two pit bulls, so we decided to take both of our cars – one dog in each car.

Along with the normal clothing items for the next seven days, I packed up my reporting equipment. I had just purchased a new Luminex writer the week prior, so that was the very last thing to go in the car. Along with my writer, I packed up a separate bag with my laptop and my external hard drives (now I’ve converted to Dropbox). I left my hard copy court dockets in the filing cabinet because I scan all of those anyway. I made sure that any other papers and equipment were high enough off the ground in case we did have water inside our home. As a reporter, even in time of crisis, you must consider securing your equipment and your files the best way you can.

As we started planning our evacuation, another fear was making sure we would have enough fuel to make the six-hour trek through the Carolinas to get back to Virginia, as thousands of people were fleeing for safety and we weren’t sure of the gas situation along our route. In fact, I ended up calling ahead just to make sure at least one station had enough fuel in their tanks for us to refuel. We left at 4 a.m., and even at that hour, our local police were monitoring every intersection. The lane reversal was in effect, which meant that all lanes were only running westbound. It was a pretty neat experience to be driving on the wrong side of the road!

There are two major ways in to the Myrtle Beach area: the 501 Bypass, which runs in front of Lake Busbee; and the 501 Business, which runs through the historic town of Conway. Traffic also has to pass over an old bridge in Conway that is scheduled to have major repairs done in the next few months, so a lot of people were very worried about whether the bridge would even hold up for this amount of traffic, which included tractor trailers and heavy equipment trucks.

The Waccamaw River, which runs through Conway, is the runoff water from the rivers that start in North Carolina, where the hurricane dumped several inches of rain. The National Guard quickly started dumping huge piles of sand and dirt and massive sandbags to create a dam on the 501 Bypass so we did not lose our main highway. Helicopters flew overhead delivering sandbag after sandbag to the nearby cold ash reserve to try to contain the pond waters from seeping into the Waccamaw River flood waters.

Even 10 days after the hurricane, we waited for our rivers to crest and recede. Hundreds of people were frantically packing their belongings to try to save what they could, and it would take many, many days before those homeowners would be able to return to assess their damage.

Reserved court reporter parking spaces at Fisher Courthouse after Hurricane Florence

It would take a few days before the flooding would crest locally for us, so at least we had time to prepare. Court ended up being closed from Tues., Sept. 1, through Mon., Sept. 18.

When the waters started rising at the courthouse, the court reporter parking spaces became filled with up to three (or more) feet of water, and then the waters started to encroach on the judge’s parking area as well. The reserved court reporter spaces where I normally park were now busted up to install huge drainage equipment.

Downtown Conway looked like a war zone. With the water rising, many streets were impassable and closed, leaving you to try to figure out how to maneuver around town. The Waze app is another tool that many people used to get around during the storm. Because the roads were closing by the minute, the Waze app had real-time information on which roads were open and would direct you that way.

Several hundred homes were flooded as a result of the overflowing rivers. Along I-40 in North Carolina, hundreds of dead fish littered the highway after the waters receded. Displaced animals could be seen trying to survive the waters: A crocodile was seen swimming at the local dog park. Eels and snakes were now inside people’s homes. Fire ants built “chain” bridges and floated on top of the water. One of our court clerks even captured video of a wild hog swimming through the flood waters in the back of the courthouse and walking out next to her window.

Once the mandatory evacuations had been lifted and we were allowed to return to our homes, we began the quest to figure out how to get home. With many, many miles of highway along I-95 in North Carolina and South Carolina under water, we decided to go west, then south, then circle back east; a trip that would take us 11 hours compared to our normal six-hour route.

For us in the Myrtle Beach area, it wasn’t so much the wind damage but the flooding as a result of the North Carolina rivers that flow downstream to us. Even almost a month later, things still have not returned to normal for us. Many are still displaced from their homes. We’re just getting our local roads back to normal. Schools were out three weeks because of the weather, and many of them were turned into shelters. And now the mosquitos have taken on a life of their own. (I hear they’re pretty big!  Almost quarter size!)

There is one thing to say about something this eventful: The community spirit really shines through. There are still so many food/supply drives and fundraising events going on to help those in need. “Carolina Strong” is the motto we live by here, and it really shows in our spirit to overcome and rebuild once again.

Bobbi Fisher, RPR, is an official court reporter from Myrtle Beach, S.C. She also serves as a member of NCRA’s Proofreading Advisory Council.

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) published an article, “NCSC helps courts prepare for disaster,” in their October 2 bulletin.

Pay It Forward: Saving for retirement (my personal experience)

By Sandy Bunch VanderPol

Sandy Bunch VanderPol

Throughout my entire 43-year career as a self-employed deposition reporter, I’ve prioritized funding my SEP IRA to the maximum amount each year. Not only does this benefit me now that I’m at “retirement age,” but it’s benefited my entire family and will continue to do so into the future. I’ve been paying it forward since I was 24 years old, and my plan is to continue to pay it forward by funding my SEP IRA as long as the law allows me to do such. I would challenge each of you to join me in saving for the future. It is never too late to start.

I’d like to share a few tips I have learned over the course of my career, which have made it possible for me to save for my retirement.

Start your plan today to save for retirement
Don’t wait! You can’t rely on social security, the government, or even an inheritance. When I started court reporting at the age of 19, I waited five years to start a SEP IRA. Had I not waited, I would be in an even better financial situation today, thanks to the wonders of compounding interest. It is always tempting to justify waiting another year to start your retirement account, but don’t fall into that trap. Look at the visual below, which is a chart from a wealth management company. I saw a similar one when I was young and it certainly got my attention. I made a plan and started my contributions.

Even if you are starting late, it is important for you to know that you are not alone. Every dollar of investment you put into your retirement account makes a difference. It is never too late.

Each month set aside your retirement contribution
As with my self-employed quarterly tax estimates, I set aside my retirement contribution each month. I’d suggest that you do the same — or, at a minimum, put something into your retirement account each quarter. You don’t have to fund your SEP IRA until April 15th of the subsequent tax year. You can fund your retirement every month or in one lump sum.

Note: Funding your retirement sooner rather than later allows you to earn more on your dollars, depending on how your SEP IRA funds are invested.

I always planned to contribute the maximum amount the law allows to my SEP IRA.

What is a SEP IRA?
A SEP IRA account is an IRA set up for people who own their own small business, and many freelance reporters fall into that grouping. I learned that, as a sole proprietor, I could make annual contributions between 0 to 20 percent of my net adjusted self-employment income (or net adjusted business profits) into my SEP IRA. Also, SEP IRA contributions are very flexible. The percentage of contribution can be changed at any time and may be skipped in a bad year. I didn’t skip any year — I kept up my routine contributions and made my retirement contributions a priority in my budget. SEP IRA contributions are generally 100 percent tax deductible from personal income.

Note: Contributing to your SEP IRA reduces the taxes owed to both the state and the federal government. You can consider this, as I have, as the government helping you to fund your retirement.

Automate your savings
Be disciplined. I set up automatic retirement contributions each month, as this allowed my retirement to grow without having to think about it. Many money management companies have an automated funding service available, and you can often make regular contributions to your SEP IRA from another account within their financial institute and even to self-direct your money to the investments of your choice.

Extra money? Don’t just spend it
My financial advisor used to tell me, “Dedicate at least half of the new money to your retirement plan. And while it may be tempting to take that tax refund or O&5 income and splurge on a new designer purse or a vacation, don’t treat those extra funds as found money. Treat yourself to something small and use the rest to help make big leaps toward your retirement goal.”

So every time I received a check from an O&5 depo, I didn’t spend it – at least not all of it. Instead, I increased my contribution percentage. Remember, the more income you make from your O&5 depositions, the more you can invest into your retirement account, so the more you need to put aside to make the funding.

Make a budget — rein in spending
Sometimes, over the years, my dedication to this goal meant I had to reconsider other things I wanted. I examined my budget and looked at ways to reduce my monthly expenditures, such as insurance costs. As I’ve bought homes, I always looked for one that I was way overqualified for. In other words, I didn’t stretch my budget by buying a higher-priced home. As my income rose, I “moved up” and have finally landed on five acres with a home my husband built and a second modest home in Tahoe. Patience was my friend in this journey.

In conclusion
Good luck on your journey to retirement. There will be many challenges along the way (I want that new car, a bigger house). Keep your retirement goal in mind, front and center. Enjoy the journey of life along the way. Don’t be so frugal you don’t enjoy life. Keep a balance, for sure. Just remember, for every dollar you invest in retirement, it is less you owe in taxes to the government. I was delighted to learn from my CPA this year that, on a side-by-side analysis with the new tax plan, I will be saving between 15-20 percent in taxes due in 2018. So, this money will go to retirement planning or investment planning — as much as I’d love to take a ski trip to Europe.

Sandy Bunch VanderPol, FAPR, RMR, CRR, is a freelance reporter based in Lotus, Calif. She is also credentialed as a Realtime Systems Administrator. She can be reached at realtimecsr@calweb.com.

This article should not be relied on as financial advice specific to your situation. As always, NCRA encourages individuals to reach out to a trusted CPA or other financial advisor to review your personal situation.

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CAPTIONING: Seven tips for surviving tornado season

Carol Studenmund, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC

By Carol Studenmund

It’s Tornado Season 2018. Many live captioners live and work in Tornado Alley. People who live in this part of the country know where to go and what to do when the bad weather starts. We should all plan ahead and be ready to work during unstable conditions. You may not get a tornado, but you may experience severe hail or thunderstorms that could interfere with your ability to work. Here are seven things you can do to be ready for whatever Mother Nature throws your way this time of year.

  1. The most important thing you can do is to plan ahead. Don’t wait for the sirens to go off before you figure out you need to run. And if you need to run for safety, run!
  2. Track your weather. Don’t be caught off guard by a storm that’s been headed your way for a few hours or even a few days.
  3. If your employer or the company for whom you’re captioning has a coordinator on duty, let that person know you may become indisposed due to weather as soon as you know. Give them the benefit of a heads up.
  4. If you’re working for your own clients, have an alternate captioner you can call on short notice. Let that person know you might need some help as soon as you see those radar screens lighting up on your weather channel.
  5. It takes really bad weather to knock out telephone land lines. Keep an analog phone handy for your land line, one that does not need electricity to work. Often, land lines will continue to work even if the electricity goes down or your cell phones aren’t working.
  6. Have an uninterrupted power supply on all your equipment – all of it, including digital phones and your router. Test all your equipment in advance, once a year, say, in February. Make sure you’re ready for unstable weather.
  7. Get a hotspot or mifi and keep it charged so you can stay connected to the internet in case your power goes out. Between your hotspot and your battery backup, you may be able to keep working just long enough to get someone to take your show for you.

Stay safe this year! If you plan ahead, you will be well prepared when the storms hit.

 

Carol Studenmund, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, is Owner/President of LNS Captioning in Portland, Ore. She is Co-Chair of NCRA’s Certified Realtime Captioner (CRC) Certification Committee and is a member of the NCRA Nominating Committee. She can be reached at cstudenmund@LNSCaptioning.com.

How to reduce the size of a pdf file

Lynette Mueller, FAPR, RDR, CRR

Lynette Mueller, FAPR, RDR, CRR

By Lynette Mueller

When you have a large file, it may not be easy to share through standard methods. It’s useful to know how to compress pdfs.

Prior to scanning your exhibits and documents, be sure to adjust your settings in your scanner app. For those times when perhaps you get scanned docs from a paralegal or attorney and the file size is extremely large and you want to link the exhibits to your transcript or you need to send a transcript via email and not sure a client will be able to receive it, reduce the file size of the doc using these options:

  1.  My first choice is Smallpdf. Just drag-and-drop your PDF file in the box, wait for the compression to complete, and then download your file. It’s that simple. All the file compressing takes place in the cloud and will not consume any capacity from your own computer. Best of all? Smallpdf.com is browser-based and works for all platforms. It doesn’t matter if you use Mac, Windows, or Linux.
  1. Acrobat offers a tutorial to reduce file size.
  1. Another option for compressing pdfs is Split_pdf.

Lynette Mueller’s ScanSnap settings

Lynette Mueller, FAPR, RDR, CRR

Lynette Mueller, FAPR, RDR, CRR

By Lynette Mueller

If you decide to use ScanSnap, Lynette Mueller, RDR, CRR, of Germantown, Tenn., chair of the Realtime and Technology Resources Committee, shared her settings.

  1. You can choose the destination file of all your scanned documents. I scan to Dropbox because it’s so easy to access all my files from one device to the next.
  2. Prior to scanning, you may choose your File Name Format (custom name). Then, choose serial number so that as you scan the software will automatically add the number of your exhibit at the end of your custom name. This saves so much time.
  3. Scanning Tab: Image Quality, Normal; Color mode, Auto color detection; Scanning side, Duplex Scan (double-sided). Check the box for “Continue scanning after current scan is finished.”
  4. Select your File Format options. PDF or JPEG
  5. Paper tab: Paper size, Automatic detection; Multifeed Detection, Check Overlapping (Ultrasonic).
  6. Compression tab: Compression, (Low); File size, 3. I find the 3 setting still provides a very legible and readable PDF.

Lynette L. Mueller, RDR, CRR, is a freelancer reporter in Johns Creek, Ga. She can be reached at lynette@omegareporting.comShe reports that a short video will be on her blog at the beginning of the article.

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