Cape Gazette

10/18/2005; Pg. 16-17

Saltwater Portrait: Alan Henney: Resort town responder and news hound

By Kevin Spence, Cape Gazette staff

For one part-time resort town resident, chasing catastrophes is a way of life.

Whether 38-year-old Alan Henney tailgates tailspins in the nation’s capital or apprehends absconders in the Nation’s Summer Capital, he’s on top of the news.

At 16, Henney followed the story of the Air Florida plane that careened into a bridge over the icy Potomac. He caught wind of the crash over a police radio.

For this Pines’ resident, being a watchdog over local emergency departments is a hobby and a career.

“ The excitement with monitoring is that you hear it first. It’s like COPS, but it’s live,” said Henney.

Henney is so in touch with media outlets and its professionals that in 2004, on-air journalist Rita Cosby called him to get the inside scoop about the Beltway sniper attacks, he said.

“We did a good job staying on top of it,” said Henney about teaming up with another friend from CNN to follow the string of deadly sniper attacks in the Washington, D. C. area.

Henney, who has been coming to Rehoboth Beach since he was a child, spends time outside of Rehoboth Beach in Takoma Park, Md.

He has been “ monitoring” emergency calls, since sixth grade, he said.

When he’s in Rehoboth, Henney manages a few in-town family rental units during the day, with a steady ear directed to many radios around the clock.

In fact, sniffing out news stories is his passion.

During the off-season, Henney is a freelance reporter with Breaking News Network, a news agency in Fort Lee, N. J.

“They like freelance people like me because I have insurance and I’m cheap,” he said.

A front line news gatherer for BNS for 11 years, Henney left for a brief stint with Channel 9 news in D. C., where he still fills in on the assignment desk.

While summering on the beach though, he recently sat inside a screened-in porch at the Sussex Street home he shares with his mother.

Swiping a lock of brown hair around his ear, Henney changes the dials and reconfigures frequencies on his army of listening devices. He pauses momentarily, hushing those around, to tune in a staticky voice describing a news event.

In front of him are multiple two-way radios and receivers that permit him to stay on top of Sussex County emergencies.

Henney zeroed in on a radio interruption.

After an alert roused his attention, he said, “ That’s my fire department pager that went off, they have a surf injury.”

In southern Delaware, he said, news events are often centered on car crashes, near drownings and parking violations, he said.

Locally, he was offered a spot on WGMD talk radio. Weekly, Henney is author of the Henney Report during the summer.

In the mid-1990s, Henney graduated from George Washington University with special honors to receive a journalism and information systems degree. After interning at WUSA-TV, he continued his education, also at GW, to acquire a Master of Science degree in information systems.

Often the first news person on the scene of a crime or an emergency, Henney can frequently be seen running through School Vue or down the Boardwalk wearing a fishing vest with multiple pockets, complete with a camera slung around his neck.

“ I love spot news, but I think of the hazards and it’s volatile,” said Henney. As for writing for a newspaper, he said, “ Sometimes you make assumptions which can be incorrect.”

For that reason, Henney alerts many news media of the event itself and lets others do the reporting. The drawback of monitoring spot news, he said, is that the observer cannot develop the story.

“ With us, it’s almost like a wireservice,” he said.

Regarding which was his biggest local story, Henney said, “ That’s always a tough one. I particularly go for other stories people may not find.”

This past summer some of the biggest stories were mayoral candidate Bob Sokolove’s sign removal and a near drowning in Dewey Beach.

But more mundane topics, like dropping in on the city’s parking patrol, also provide him excitement. “ The parking meter people are particularly fascinating. Over Labor Day weekend, they had five cars towed,” said Henney, who listens in on two-way conversations.

“They go back-and-forth over the radio – such banter,” he said.

“I’ve been real big about listening to parking spaces through the summer,” he said. On Stockley Street, said Henney, there were nine different incidents.

While he certainly has an opinion about Rehoboth’s density issue, covering local legislation is not at the top of his list.

Regarding local politics such a the recently passed FAR ordinance, Henney, whose family owns a couple of old-style beach cottages in town, said, “They’re saying we can’t build McMansions, but the people with the deep pockets can afford them, and those with beach cottages don’t have that option now.”

For Henney excitement lies not so much in political conflict but rather in an issue’s immediacy.

“You have a short window to get a photo of a drowning. But the FAR issue, for instance, goes on for months,” said Henney.

He also has an aversion to press releases and canned news, he said.

“One thing that really concerns me are press releases. I think they’re unhealthy,” he said.
“The seagulls are sitting there squawking and the public relations people come out and throw them some press releases. The seagulls fight over the press releases. But, you have a few diligent birds, like the crows, that are digging through the cans and come across boxes of fries that are uneaten.”

“News organizations are sitting around waiting around for handouts, like Thrasher’s french fries, but digging in the can is harder,” said Henney.