Radio stations and their communities need EMAs

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The ongoing buzz about the released Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) and its use with the Emergency Alert System with the FEMA acceptance of CAP almost totally forgets concern and compassion for the average citizen at the local level.
 
All of the drive to improve technology to and ensure that state and federal messages get through the nationwide broadcast-radio-daisy-chain in a disaster, appears to forget about us on the home front.
 
It happened to me and my wife here in Richmond 2 years ago as we absorbed a little of the tailend wrath of hurricane Ike.
 
Our neighbors in nearby Cincinnati were in an emergency situation for two weeks.  Fortunately we were out of all communication, and more than a little nervous for two days.
 
We depend on Comcast cable for television, internet and telephone.  Cable was out.  Our cellphones are incapable of text, so there was no alert or warning or helpful information there.  Cell service was out anyway, for those two days.
 
Historically we have always turned to ubiquitous radio in these situations.  We have 4 battery-operated radio sets.  Our local stations were entertaining, but were on auto pilot/robot operation for that entire weekend.  No local information or warnings on important things such as how and whether we might get to medical care, food, potable water, what roads were closed due to live electrical wires down, trees across roads, etc.
 
Our situation, in a smaller and thankfully less dangerous way, was not unlike that of  Minot, ND.
 
On January 21, 2002, A train derailment in Minot spilled harmful chemicals creating a toxic cloud that scared residents and which was responsible for at least one death.
 
Local law enforcement through emergency management personnel were unable to execute radio EAS (Emergency Alert System) procedures that night because, tragically, local emergency management people had not installed equipment for this purpose. Instead, in the midst of chaos, they turned to telephone lines which were already clogged by calls to them from citizens attempting to learn what was happening. As a result, the local community was not fully and immediately informed of a life-threatening situation.
 
It was determined later that the Minot EMA authorities did not preempt regular radio programming to get the emergency warning on the empty local radio station.
 
A train derailed in Graniteville, SC, At 2:39 am on January 6, 2005, spilling harmful chemicals. This resulted in 9 fatalities, sent 550 to hospitals and 5400 people were eventually evacuated.
 
Local emergency agencies (EMA) were not successful in manually interrupting radio broadcasts to alert citizens of the dangerous conditions.  Local EMA-type authorities sometimes have the ability to do this.  They should have the ability to do this since 90+% of radio stations are devoid of human population much of the week.
 
There is a solution which should be included in any arrangement. No, it’s not stations’ 24 hour staffing. That would kill many operations.
 
Please consider the positives of stations working with and ceding friendly commandeering of their facility to and by their local EMA, first responders, and law enforcement officials. There is always somebody at EMA and, properly equipped, they can and will interrupt programming for these empty automated stations to help keep their citizens alive and well.
 
Encourage and empower our radio stations to perform in the public interest, convenience, necessity and safety which has always been a source of pride for them and which they’ve accomplished historically with pride and dedication.
 
Station operators’ vital and irreplaceable links of information, alerts, and warnings down here on the local level will fulfill an obligation they’ve always paid with great alacrity to their listeners and to their advertisers.  It’s only good business.  Nobody operator I know would want to face their listeners and advertisers after an unreported serious disaster.
 
For radio broadcast, only, something north of $20 million is about to be spent on new CAP-capable EAS receivers. Cash investments which will result in new equipment for this purpose occupying a rack space or two in the station, complying with the letter of the law, but useless and worthless at the local level without motivation for performance.
 
Small and medium radio operations, primarily for economic reasons, have been forced into precarious positions regarding the most dependable source for emergency deployments of alerts, information and warnings.
 
We believe that overtures and exchange of information between and among station operators and EMAs, first responders, fire, police, sheriff, EMTs is imperative to add security to any plan.  Your personnel’s contact information, landline and cell, so that, if necessary in the big one, a pickup could be arranged via helecopter or snowcat, etc.  I’m sure stations’ operators dedication and commitment could make this happen.
 
Articulating as clearly as I can, any interruption to a station by others must be a real emergency and that must be stressed in any arrangement as described here.
 
Please help local public service.  Save lives.  EMAs can make you heroes with very little or no continuing expense.
 
If your tower is not on the ground, you can reach us like no other medium.
 
Thank you.
Dave Burns
Richmond, IN


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Carl has been with RBR-TVBR since 1997 and is currently Managing Director/Senior Editor. Residing in Northern Virginia, he covers the business of broadcasting, advertising, programming, new media and engineering. He’s also done a great deal of interviews for the company and handles our ever-growing stable of bylined columnists.