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.
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.
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.

Oil being moved from Oklahoma to Gulf Coast traversing through Fort Bend County

5 05 2012

A pipeline project aimed at moving crude oil in storage in Oklahoma is nearing completion.  The Seaway Crude Oil Pipeline transports approximately 150,000 barrels a day from a storage facility near Cushing, Oklahoma to Freeport, in Brazoria County.  Newspaper reports indicate that the line will require 2.5 million barrels of oil to fill, and the initial transit time will be about fifteen days.

As you can see from the map to the left, the Seaway pipeline crosses across Fort Bend County. The Seaway system includes a 500-mile Freeport, Texas to Cushing, Oklahoma pipeline and a terminal and distribution crude oil network originating in Texas City, Texas that serves all of the refineries in the Greater Houston area.  Seaway Crude Pipeline Company LLC (Seaway) is a 50/50 joint venture between Enterprise Products Partners L.P. which serves as operator and Enbridge Inc., which purchased its ownership interest from ConocoPhillips on November 16, 2011.

Enterprise and Enbridge are in the process of reversing Seaway, allowing it to transport crude oil from the bottlenecked Cushing, Oklahoma hub to the vast refinery complex along the Gulf Coast near Houston. In reversed service the line is expected to have an initial capacity of 150,000 barrels per day (BPD) by second quarter 2012. Following pump station additions and modifications, anticipated to be completed by early 2013, the capacity of the reversed Seaway Pipeline will increase to approximately 400,000 BPD of crude oil, assuming a mix of light and heavy grades.  The photo below shows field crews installing a new piece of pipe for the pipeline at a valve site in Fort Bend County.

Though the Seaway pipeline is a big project, it is only one of many pipelines that criss-cross Fort Bend County.  In fact, over 1600 miles of pipelines are located in the County.  Of course, that is not very much when you consider that over two million miles of pipelines can be found in the United States.  That is enough to circle the earth about 100 times. However, even though there are pipelines almost everywhere, most people do not know that such a large network even exists.

The US Department of Transportation notes that most hazardous liquid and gas pipelines are buried underground. To ensure your safety and avoid damaging underground lines, you must call your state one-call center before digging. Call Before you Dig!  Most hazardous liquid and gas transmission  pipelines are located underground in rights-of-way (ROW). A ROW consists of consecutive property easements acquired by, or granted to, the pipeline company. The ROW provides sufficient space to perform pipeline maintenance and inspections, as well as a clear zone where encroachments can be monitored and prevented. ROW Briefing.

To find out if a transmission pipeline is located near you, you can visit the National Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS) and search by your county or zip code.  Pipeline operators are required to post brightly-colored markers along their ROW to indicate the presence of – but not necessarily the exact location of – their underground pipelines. Markers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They contain information about the nearby pipeline as well as emergency contact information for the company that operates it. Pipeline Markers Briefing

Gas distribution systems consist of distribution main lines and service lines. Distribution main lines are generally installed in underground utility easements alongside streets and highways. Distribution service lines run from the distribution main line into homes or businesses. Distribution main and service lines are not generally indicated by above-ground markers. To ensure safety and avoid damaging underground lines, anyone planning to dig or excavate is required by law to contact their state One-Call center 48 to 72 hours before digging.

Emergency responders across the County are aware of the pipelines.  Our fire departments receive relevant information from the pipeline operators that work in our area.  In December 2010, a Fort Bend County Pipeline Explosion Exercise was developed and held to test the County Emergency Operations Center’s capabilities to respond to a pipeline explosion in an unincorporated section of the County.   During the exercise, the participants successfully achieved pre-identified objectives related to tracking resources, developing an Incident Action Plan, managing information within and external to the Emergency Operations Center, and gaining situational awareness during such an incident.

There is a tremendous amount of information about pipelines available on the Internet. However, if you have specific questions about pipelines in Fort Bend County, please do not hesitate to contact the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management and we will try to assist you.