The Value of Travelers’ Information Radio Stations

9 01 2013

Travelers’ Information Stations are operated by governmental entities for the purpose of broadcasting information by low-wattage AM radio to the traveling public.  Fort Bend County operates 1670 AM, and other jurisdictions in Fort Bend County also operate such stations (Missouri City, Stafford, Sugar Land); sometimes referred to simply as “TIS.”  Agencies operating a TIS must be licensed, operate in the AM Broadcast Band; are limited to a 10 watt transmitter output tower; and may not transmit commercial information.

Fort Bend County belongs to the American Association of Information Radio Operators (AAIRO).  AAIRO is comprised of 346 members, consisting of government agencies and associated individuals in the public safety community in the United States.  For several years, AAIRO has advocated for changes in the regulations governing TIS;  the organization is requesting specific changes to FCC regulations so that such stations are authorized to broadcast critical weather and safety information to the traveling public in advance of, during, and following disasters and emergencies.  By doing so, TIS can assist in mitigating the loss of life and property.

It is hoped that the FCC will take into account the experiences of coastal communities in New Jersey that experienced severe weather during the landfall of Hurricane Sandy last year.  As you will see below, these AM radio stations became the primary source of information for citizens during and after the storm due to the failures of other means of communication.  As reported in The Source newsletter, October 2012, here is the story of what occurred in Manasquan, New Jersey:

Withstanding Sandy

Hurricane Sandy slammed ashore south of this New Jersey coastal community on October 29. Ninety MPH winds pushed a wall of water into flood-prone Manasquan, causing massive flooding. Emergency Manager Chris Tucker tapped his Information Radio Station on AM 1620 to be the solitary source to keep residents apprised, with the anticipation that “data and internet connections might be compromised.” They were. Additionally, his station’s antenna system encountered enormous winds and was engulfed by 3 feet of storm surge. It kept working. The station’s battery backup – occasionally charged via generator – powered the station continuously through the storm.

Manasquan operates an Alert AM Information Radio Station with a hurricane wind rated antenna system, designed to withstand gusts of up to 150mph. Several flashing alert signs are positioned on local roads to alert motorists.
Manasquan001
Eighty miles downshore near Sandy’s landfall, Police Chief Robert Matteucci of North Wildwood, NJ, utilized his 1640 signal to protect life and property. The signal remained on the air throughout the storm. The broadcast
, which was simulcast to the Internet, advised residents how to find assistance and provided emergency numbers for electric and gas companies. The internet stream was monitored by more than 1000 people in nine states, some as far away as California. Internet listeners to North Wildwood’s stream logged more than 14,400 minutes the day Sandy made landfall.
Manasquan002
Manasquan’s and North Wildwood’s Information Radio Stations comprise but 2 of more than 40 stations installed in NJ in the past 10 years to protect citizens’ lives/property in a disaster.

At North Plainfield, NJ, operator Rich Phoenix comments, “Only radio stations and battery or crank-powered receivers will survive [during a disaster]. Local information is king; and the TIS stations are top of the heap.”

AAIRO’s Petition Docket 09-19 for rulemaking as been under consideration by the FCC for a very long time with no action being taken by the FCC.  Many communities across the nation, including many along the coast in New Jersey, have written letters to the FCC supporting the AAIRO position.  Now is the time, that the FCC revise TIS content rules to specifically state that weather forecasts (e.g. NOAA radio rebroadcasts), warnings, and emergency preparedness information can be broadcast at any time— before, during, and after a disaster—as a means of mitigating loss of life and damage to property.





Free Online Symposium – Community Recovery from Disaster

16 03 2011

Given the recent catastrophe in Japan, this is a most timely event.  Lots of quality speakers including Chuck Wemple from the Houston-Galveston Area Council who will be presenting an article on economic issues in post disaster recovery based on his experiences in Texas.  Information about this free event is below.

The Public Entity Risk Institute will present its first 2011 online symposium, Community Recovery from Disaster, March 21-25, 2011. The symposium will bring to practitioners and public officials practical information about the latest research and lessons learned about the economic, social, physical, institutional and interdisciplinary dimensions of disaster recovery. These dimensions were explored in depth by top researchers in the field at the recent Theory of Recovery Workshop sponsored by PERI and funded by the National Science Foundation. This online symposium will investigate how these dimensions of disaster recovery could affect your community, and offer lessons that will help you prepare.

Each day of the symposium, registered participants will be able to log in and read the papers and post comments on the material presented and pose questions to the authors or other participants. Provided as a public service, PERI Virtual Symposium Programs are free and open to anyone with Internet access (registration required). Each morning, participants who enroll in the Symposium will be emailed a link to the papers being presented that day.

This symposium program will be moderated by Dr. Laurie A. Johnson. Laurie Johnson is Principal of Laurie Johnson Consulting and a senior science advisor to Lexington and Chartis Insurance companies. She has over 20 years of professional experience in urban planning, risk management, and disaster recovery management, and has studied most of the world’s recent, major urban disasters, including the Chile (2010), Sichuan China (2008), Kobe Japan (1995) and Northridge (1994) earthquakes, Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the 2004 Florida storms, and the World Trade Center disaster. In 2006, she was a lead author of the recovery plan for the City of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and coauthored the book, Clear as Mud: Planning for the Rebuilding of New Orleans, published in April 2010.

The following experts have been invited to contribute Issues and Ideas Papers:

  **Charles Eadie, Principal Associate, Hamilton Swift & Associates, will present a paper on the physical dimensions of disaster recovery.
  **Dr. Rick Sylves, professor and senior research scientist at the Institute for Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Management, Department of Engineering Management, University of Delaware, will present a paper on the institutional dimensions of disaster recovery.
  **Chuck Wemple, Economic Development Program Manager of the Houston-Galveston Area Council and manager of the Gulf Coast Economic Development District, will present an article on economic issues in post disaster recovery based on his experiences in Texas.
  **Dr. Rob Olshansky, professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will co-author the symposium introduction and synthesis paper with the moderator.
  **Dr. Liesel A. Ritchie, assistant director for research at the Natural Hazards Center, will present on the social dimension of disaster recovery.

Sign-up today for the free symposium! 

 





Are Earthquakes Really on the Increase?

14 03 2011

The destruction caused by the recent earthquake in Japan has grabbed our attention this weekend.  And, the subsequent tsunami and nuclear problems are tragedies that are almost incomprehensible.  One question that has come up a couple of times on the television news program I was watching included:  “Are earthquakes happening more frequently?”

Best source of information for a question like that is the United States Geological Survey (USGS).  And the USGS answer to the question follows:

“Although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant.  A partial explanation may lie in the fact that in the last twenty years, we have definitely had an increase in the number of earthquakes we have been able to locate each year. This is because of the tremendous increase in the number of seismograph stations in the world and the many improvements in global communications.  In 1931, there were about 350 stations operating in the world; today, there are more than 8,000 stations and the data now comes in rapidly from these stations by electronic mail, internet and satellite.  This increase in the number of stations and the more timely receipt of data has allowed us and other seismological centers to locate earthquakes more rapidly and to locate many small earthquakes which were undetected in earlier years.” 

The USGS National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) now locates about 20,000 earthquakes each year or approximately 50 per day.  Also, because of the improvements in communications (e.g. Twitter, YouTube, Facebook) and the increased interest in the environment and natural disasters, the public now learns about more earthquakes.

According to long-term records (since about 1900), the USGS expects about 17 major earthquakes (7.0 – 7.9) and one great earthquake (8.0 or above) in any given year.  So far in 2011, the NEIC Information Center indicates that we have experienced one great earthquake and six major earthquakes





The Growing Use of Geospatial Information in Emergency Management

24 09 2010

Over the last few years, the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management has utilized technology to improve its abilities to handle collection and dissemination of information, both on a day-to-day basis and also during times of disaster.  It is incumbent on professional emergency management agencies to be aware of how useful technology can be before, during, and after a disaster occurs.  In particular, the relatively recent ability of everyday citizens to have access to GPS receivers enlarges the possibilities of how geospatial information can be utilized in the field of emergency management.

Geospatial information is more than just a handheld GPS receiver used to navigate personal travel.  Digital maps can unite people across the world and even save lives.  After last January’s earthquake in Haiti, geographic information systems helped first responders map cities, locate survivors, and distribute aid.

Penn State University has recently received a series of work entitled “The Geospatial Revolution Project.”  It is an overview of modern mapping, focusing on GPS (like Garmin units in a vehicle, smartphones, etc..), taking a look at GPS’s impact both on our daily lives and on the world at large.  The mission of the Geospatial Revolution Project is to expand public knowledge about the history, applications, related privacy and legal issues, and the potential future of location-based technologies. The first episode is a 13 minute documentary that takes a look at a timeline history of mapping —- including an examination of GPS use to provide humanitarian aid during the Haiti earthquake relief efforts.  Despite the destruction wrought by the earthquake, about two-thirds of phone lines remained standing–the most resilient bit of infrastructure–and that allowed some ingenious rescue methods that would have been impossible even a few years earlier.

The 13-minute video uses the earthquake in Haiti to highlight how geospatial technology is critical in providing first responders with the information they need to help victims.  This video can be accessed at the following link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwVig_cAU7U





Haiti Earthquake Relief Effort

25 01 2010

I have written a couple of times about the Haiti Earthquake Relief Effort.  The option offered below for businesses is unique in the sense that it involves a technology product that the Houston Urban Area is utilizing to help our area prepare for the next disaster.  Recently, our region purchased a technology called “i-INFO” to help us manage resources during a catastrophe.   

i-INFO Networks in other parts of the United States have formed a network to assist those in Haiti— in a manner that is appropriate to the need.  The World Cares Center in New York City, a member of the National Business Reponse Network, is deploying a team to Haiti to setup a resource and volunteer coordination center to assist int he relief and recovery effort.    The National Business Response Network is working with US Northern Command in this relief effort.  The team should be established this week, and once set up, with the help of other Business Response Network members providing satellite phones and other key equipment, the team will be in a position to communicate directly from the center in Haiti.

It is important that the donations from citizens and businesses fit the needs of the victims— it would be counterproductive to send items that are of no use to those suffering.  The Center will provide a mechanism for knowing exactly what is needed.  So, today, I have two suggestions for those citizens and businesses that want to contribute to the relief effort:

Citizens:

Citizens are urged to donate money to relief organizations. This ensure that the most appropriate type of aid gets to the victims as quickly as possible.  Donating to the American Red Cross, is a simple way for citizens to donate and to make sure that the money is being put to good use.  The Fort Bend County OEM coordinates with the Red Cross locally during disasters which affect Fort Bend County, and you can donate to the Red Cross to send more relief to Haiti.

Businesses:

Businesses are also urged to donate to the Red Cross, but can also offer supplies to be sent directly to Haiti. A registry is available at http://registry.i-info.com/haiti and is intended to collect in-kind resources from any organization that is willing to donate these critically needed items. If you don’t have anything to donate on the list, you can register for updates to the registry.





Texas Task Force-1 Not Traveling to Haiti

18 01 2010

As printed in the Houston Chronicle on January 18, 2010:

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — An elite search and rescue team from Texas will not fly to earthquake-devastated Haiti and has been demobilized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  The Texas Engineering Extension Service in College Station on Monday said the United Nations mission in Haiti has declared that search and rescue teams in the country are sufficient.

Texas Task Force One was called up by Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday, two days after a massive earthquake rocked the Port-au-Prince area. The urban search and rescue team from Texas, with about 80 personnel, plus search dogs, had been on standby in Houston since then.  Flights in and out of Haiti’s capital city airport, which suffered damage, have been limited, with commercial service halted to clear the way for military and other recovery flights.





Governor Perry Offers More Disaster Response Assistance to Haiti from Texas

14 01 2010

News Release from the Office of the Governor, State of Texas is provided below.  This was released on January 14, 2010.  In the release, the Governor speaks to his decision to send search and rescue personnel to Haiti.  He also sent a letter to President Obama offering additional resources and support.

 
AUSTIN – Governor.Rick Perry today sent Texas Task Force One, the state’s elite search and rescue team, to provide assistance in the aftermath of Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti. He also sent a letter to President Barack Obama offering additional state disaster response resources to assist emergency response teams, rescue workers and medical personnel. Since the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is leading and coordinating the U.S. response effort to this disaster, Texas must receive federal authorization before state resources can be deployed.http://www.usaid.gov/

“In the wake of the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, Texas is standing by to deliver much needed assistance and supplies to the victims of this disaster,” Governor Perry said. “Already this morning a team of brave men and women from Texas Task Force One departed for Haiti to provide vital search and rescue assistance. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, rescue personnel and medical workers in Haiti as they continue to cope with the aftermath of this quake.”

Texas Task Force One is capable of responding to mass-casualty disasters and is trained and equipped to locate and rescue people trapped by collapsed structures in confined space in highly populated areas.

Additional state resources available for deployment include:

Medical Personnel:
·    Medical Assessment and Coordination Team with 4 personnel from Texas A&M/University of Texas
·    TxMAT (Texas Medical Assistance Team) – 2 teams – 7 personnel each; one from TX A&M and one from Angel Staffing – 1 physician, 2 nurses, 2 paramedics, 1 respiratory care
·    Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Command Assistance Team (1 team of 7 – 10 personnel) – from DSHS central and regional staff; incident management team
·    Community Assessment Public Emergency Response Team (CASPER) 3-5 person team to augment U.S. Public Health Service

Medical Supplies:
·    40 shelter push packs – support 100 people for three days with over-the-counter medications and other shelter supplies
·    40 shelter supply augmentation kits for infection control focused on preventing infectious disease, including gloves, masks, sanitizers, etc.

Medical Equipment:
·    2 mortuary refrigerated trailers with body bags and supplies

Baptist Child and Family Services: San Antonio (Shelter Medical):
·    Two 500 bed shelters including tents
·    70 staff for Incident Management Team
·    60 kilowatt generators
·    Medical staff (nurses and paramedics)
·    Communications package for satellite and local radios 

Texas Baptist Men:
·    Water purification equipment and personnel capable of providing drinking water for 65,000 people.    
 
Texas Military Forces Aircraft:
·    Two C-130s capable of transporting large quantities of equipment, supplies and personnel

TX A&M (Boat):
·    600 foot boat capable of housing responders

Search and Rescue: Texas Task Force One – TX A&M (already approved by federal government for deployment):
·    Highly trained urban search and rescue team
·    80 personnel
·    Search and rescue, K-9, logistics, communications and medical capabilities

Search and Rescue: Texas Task Force Two – DFW Area:
·    Highly trained personnel to augment Texas Task Force One
·    Conduct search of small structures

Texas-related volunteer organizations providing financial and other assistance in response to this disaster include The Salvation Army, Victim Relief Ministers, Billy Graham Ministries, Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, American Red Cross, and Baptist Child and Family Services.

For additional information on the response effort and situation in Haiti, please visit