Remember Windstorm 2015? It was just a little less than a year ago.
One of the major concerns expressed by officials and citizens in Windstorm 2015’s aftermath was the complete inadequacy of timely, consistent, verified information being put out by the Kootenai County Office of Emergency Management before, during, and even after the event.
If this recent blurb on the City of Coeur d’Alene’s website is any indication, little has changed for the better. Apparently the City has decided that “social media” will be the method of choice for reaching out to the public.
So, what’s wrong with “social media?”
- They are internet dependent. Fortunately the internet is absolutely reliable. Nothing ever could happen to it, right? Except this and this.
- It requires users to have expensive internet devices, service, and access. What about people who do not have smart phones or other internet-capable portable devices? And what about people who have the devices but they use rechargeable but not replaceable batteries? What do they do when the electricity goes out for days and their whizbang communications device goes dead? A discharged battery that cannot be replaced or recharged is useless for emergency telephone communications as well as for receiving timely, verified information from officials on “social media.”
- Which “social medium” will be the official source of official information? We don’t know, because neither the City nor the County have told us. Will it be FaceRash, Snappity-Doo-Dah, Twitterpation?
- If the “social media” allow public input, each medium must be monitored continuously by EOC personnel. People will use these media to report information that would more appropriately be called in to a trained call-taker at 9-1-1.
Our preceding Windstorm 2015 posts advocated the County and City working with one or more terrestrial commercial broadcast AM and FM radio stations to allow the Kootenai County Emergency Operations Center to provide an audio feed to the station(s).
The type of feed we envisioned would provide short duration, as-warranted or several times per hour reports at regular invervals. They would be similar to traffic reports currently broadcast. Here’s an audio example recorded January 4, 2016. It was aired by KXLY radio. The on-air announcer, Bob Lutz, works for Metro Traffic which provides traffic report audio feeds to several stations.
Why use old-fashioned radio?
- It is not internet dependent.
- Some radio stations in our area include nearly all of Kootenai County in their primary coverage area.
- Radio stations’ studios and transmitter sites are designed to operate during emergencies, even long-term power outages. They have been used for decades to deliver timely, essential information to many people. Radio is reliable, and it has proven itself.
- A battery-powered portable AM/FM radio receiver costs less than $25. The commonly used, inexpensive alkaline batteries have a shelf-life of ten years, so spares can easily be stored with other emergency supplies.
- Most cars, pickups, trucks, and motor homes come with AM/FM radios. Even visitors in the area and people passing through would have access to emergency information. No keyboard operations required while driving in adverse conditions.
- In many emergencies (think Firestorm, Mt. St. Helens eruption, Ice Storm) radio stations already interrupt regular programming to provide information from the National Weather Service and other emergency entities. They already have a plan and could work with the Kootenai County OEM to plan and prepare in advance.
- The OEM/EOC has absolute control over the timing and completeness of the information being disseminated through its audio feed to its radio partners. It can assure that only timely, accurate information is sent on its feed.
- The announcer in the EOC needs only two skills: Be able to read copy clearly and be able to tell time. Others in the EOC need to be able to write the clear, succinct, accurate copy for the on-air announcer to read.
What would the OEM/EOC have to do?
- Commit to using terrestrial commercial AM and FM stations (if the stations are willing) as the primary method of delivering emergency information to the public.
- Identify radio stations with adequate area coverage around the clock. Some radio stations, mainly AM stations, reduce power or change their antenna pattern at night to reduce interference with other stations. Contact the station management to dicsuss the idea.
- Assuming suitable stations agree to participate, work with their personnel to establish the technical links from the EOC to the stations. It’s not as complicated as it might seem. It will cost some money, though.
- Train OEM/EOC persons to gather the information from others in the EOC, then write and read the copy.
In an emergency, getting timely, verified accurate, complete information out to the public is essential. Using commercial AM and FM terrestrial radio achieves that. If people know where to tune in an emergency, and if they tune there and hear what they need to hear, they are less likely to tie up emergency phone numbers such as 9-1-1 asking for information. They are also less likely to use “social media” to report emergency information that should be called in to 9-1-1 where trained call-takers can process it more quickly and accurately and route it to appropriate responders.