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.





TAMU System gets $285.6M contract for center to combat terrorism

22 06 2012

From the Texas Government Insider, published Friday, June 22, 2012:

An economic impact of more than $1.3 billion in Texas is expected from the announcement that the Texas A&M University System has been awarded a $285.6 million contract to develop a center whose goal will be to enhance the United States’ ability to counter biological and pandemic threats. The Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing will represent one of the largest research grants to come to Texas since NASA, said TAMU System Chancellor John Sharp.

Of the total contract, $176 million will come from the federal government, with the remainder from academic and commercial partners and the state. The facility is expected to be operational by December 2015.

Sharp said the center will allow the United States to counter biological and pandemic threats with vaccines manufactured in this country. He said <!– –>the need for this capability was identified following a comprehensive review of federal public health emergency medical countermeasures called for by President Barack Obama in his 2010 State of the Union address. The Department of Health and Human Services issued a request for proposals on March 30, 2011 and TAMU was among the applicants. The contract was awarded following a year-long competitive nationwide process.

“The Texas A&M System is the prime contractor for a team of world-class academic, commercial and non-profit institutions. This highly integrated R&D team will utilize state-of-the-art processes for development and testing of new vaccines and therapies,” said Sharp in a written statement.

Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives Brett Giroir noted that securing the project would mean “hundreds of millions of dollars in up front federal investment, and a 25-year potential commitment.”The center will be located on a site of nearly 150 acres owned by the city of Bryan. Upwards of 1,000 jobs are expected to be created by the addition of the center.





2011 Texas Legislative Session – March 5th

5 03 2011

Below you will find a listing of  Emergency Management related bills as of March 5, 2011.    Information about 42 bills is shown below.

The 82nd Texas Legislature will be in session 140 days.  The first day of the session was Tuesday, January 11, 2011 and the last day of the session is Monday, May 30, 2011.  The last day to file regular bills be Friday, March 11, 2011.  Governor Perry has until June 19th to review bills passed by the State Legislature.  He can sign a bill to authorize new law, or he can let a bill become law without signing, or he can veto a bill.

HB 1  – (Pitts) Relating to General Appropriations.  Among other things, this bill would reduce expenditures for 9-1-1 Network by 27%; reduce by 48% disaster funding to state and local agencies when the Governor finds the demands on funds regularly appropriated are insufficient to respond to a particular disaster; reduce by Criminal Justice grants by 55%, impacting the number of grants awarded from an estimated 900 in FY 2011 to approximately 520 each fiscal year of the 2012-13 biennium; and eliminate funding for the Flood Control Dam Grant Program which provides operations and maintenance, structural repair, and rehabilitation needs to flood control dams across the State.

HB 614   –  (Hopson)  Relating to allowing health care providers to provide services across state lines in catastrophic circumstances

HB 803 – (Bonnen) Relating to the penalty for failure to make a timely installment payment of ad valorem taxes on property in a disaster area.  SB 432 is identical

HB 805 – (Callegari) Relating the requirement that certain water service providers ensure emergency operations during an extended power outage

HB 837 – (Taylor, Van) Relating to the authority of peace officers to request thumbprints during motor vehicle stops

HB 993 – (Rodriguez, E.)  Relating to the closure of a road or highway by certain firefighters

HB 1030 – (Miller) Relating to the powers and duties of certain emergency services districts

HB 1075 – (Anderson) Relating to the consolidation of certain alert system into a single statewide alert system and to the addition of other factors that will prompt an alert under the consolidated system

HB 1092 – (Christian)  Relating to the exemption from certain construction requirements for volunteer fire departments in certain counties

HB 1125 – (Burnam)  Relating to a study regarding the odorization of natural gas transported in gathering and transmission lines located in populated areas

HB 1147 – (Smith) Relating to notice by a governmental entity regarding certain geospatial data products.  SB 442 is identical

HB 1174 – (Workman) Relating to the expiration of a county burn ban

HB 1217 – (Miles)  Relating to a residential tenant’s right to vacate a dwelling and avoid liability for rent following the declaration of a state of disaster; providing a civil penalty

HB 1319 – (Laubenberg) Relating to the calculation and reporting of water usage and conservation by municipalities and water utilities

HB 1354 – (Davis, S.)  Relating to liability of certain certified municipal inspector for services rendered during an emergency or disaster

HB 1379 – (Anchia)  Relating to the purchasing of a firearm from the county by an honorably retired law enforcement officer

HB 1476  –  (Riddle)  Relating to the grounds for revocation of an emergency medical services personnel certification

HB 1561  –  (Orr)  Relating to the authority of a municipality to implement a photographic traffic signal enforcement system and impose civil penalties

HB 1619 – (Orr)  Relating to emergency services districts

HB 1711 – (Davis, John)  Relating to disaster remediation contracts; providing penalties

HB 1750 – (Darby)  Relating to the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation to lease and contract for the operation of rolling stock during certain emergencies

HB 1765 – (Miller, Sid)  Relating to an emergency public service messaging network.  Identical to SB 971

HB 1791 – (Kleinschmidt)  Relating to emergency services districts

HB 1861 – (Anchia)  Relating to the continuation and functions of the Commission on State Emergency Communications

HB 1878 – (Miller, Doug)  Relating to emergency service districts.  Identical to SB 917

HB 1911 – (Bonnen)  Relating to the liability of certain persons for damages arising from training exercises to prepare the persons to respond to certain emergencies.  Brazoria County emergency management officials worked to get this legislation proposed for consideration.

HB 1917 – (Schwertner)  Relating to the removal of appointed emergency services commissioners by a commissioners court

HB 1986 – (Turner)  Relating to the authority of the Public Utility Commission of Texas to ensure the Electric Reliability Council of Texas has adequate reserve power to prevent blackout conditions

HB 2035 – (Hamilton)  Relating to the temporary relocation of alcoholic beverage distributor’s or wholesaler’s premises during a period of emergency and delivery of alcoholic beverages to a distributor’s or wholesaler’s premises.

HB 2040 – (Hamilton)  Relating to critical incident stress management and crisis response services.

HB 2075 – (Martinez, Mando)  Relating to certain diseases or illnesses suffered by firefighters and emergency medical technicians

HB 2099 – (Truitt)  Relating to an alert for a missing person with an intellectual disability.

HB 2158 – (Coleman)  Relating to a prohibition against the use of a stun gun or taser by school district peace officers, security personnel, and other employees against certain public school students.

HB 2239 – (Coleman)  Relating to the minimum number of county jailers necessary to staff a county jail.

HB 2257 – (Phillips)  Relating to communications during a disaster or an emergency by public service providers.

SB 9 – Relating to Homeland Security.  The content of this proposed legislation relates to verification of immigration status of person charged with committing offense.

SB 106 – (Davis, Wendy)  Relating to condemnation of municipal property for, and municipal regulation of, pipeline operations.

SB 319 – (Carona)  Relating to financing programs for low-income electric customers and certain other electric customers.

SB 389 – (Williams)  Relating to emergency preparedness during an extended power outage of a water service provider with at lease 250 connections

SB 418   –   (Williams)  Relating to the carrying of concealed handguns by certain persons attending a school board meeting

SB 617  –  (Rodriguez)  Relating a manifest system to record the transportation of certain liquid wastes

SB 917 – (Wentworth)  Relating to emergency service districts

SB 969 – (Nelson)  Relating to the establishment of the Public Health Funding and Policy Advisory Committee with the Department of State Health Services

For a PDF listing:  billreport 3-05-11 

The PDF lists the bills, and includes information on the status of each bill.  At this point, many of the bills have been assigned to committees for review.  Public hearings have been called to hear testimony on some bills.

If you know of other bills that I may have missed, please leave me a comment and let me know!  Thanks to those of you who have contacted me and made suggestions.

Also, please consider subscribing to this blog to receive the legislative information directly.





2011 Texas Legislative Session – March 2nd

2 03 2011

Below you will find a listing of  Emergency Management related bills as of March 2, 2011.    Information about thirty-three bills is shown below.

The 82nd Texas Legislature will be in session 140 days.  The first day of the session was Tuesday, January 11, 2011 and the last day of the session is Monday, May 30, 2011.  The last day to file regular bills be Friday, March 11, 2011.  Governor Perry has until June 19th to review bills passed by the State Legislature.  He can sign a bill to authorize new law, or he can let a bill become law without signing, or he can veto a bill.

HB 1  – (Pitts) Relating to General Appropriations.  Among other things, this bill would reduce expenditures for 9-1-1 Network by 27%; reduce by 48% disaster funding to state and local agencies when the Governor finds the demands on funds regularly appropriated are insufficient to respond to a particular disaster; reduce by Criminal Justice grants by 55%, impacting the number of grants awarded from an estimated 900 in FY 2011 to approximately 520 each fiscal year of the 2012-13 biennium; and eliminate funding for the Flood Control Dam Grant Program which provides operations and maintenance, structural repair, and rehabilitation needs to flood control dams across the State.

HB 614   –  (Hopson)  Relating to allowing health care providers to provide services across state lines in catastrophic circumstances

HB 803 – (Bonnen) Relating to the penalty for failure to make a timely installment payment of ad valorem taxes on property in a disaster area.  SB 432 is identical

HB 805 – (Callegari) Relating the requirement that certain water service providers ensure emergency operations during an extended power outage

HB 837 – (Taylor, Van) Relating to the authority of peace officers to request thumbprints during motor vehicle stops

HB 993 – (Rodriguez, E.)  Relating to the closure of a road or highway by certain firefighters

HB 1030 – (Miller) Relating to the powers and duties of certain emergency services districts

HB 1075 – (Anderson) Relating to the consolidation of certain alert system into a single statewide alert system and to the addition of other factors that will prompt an alert under the consolidated system

HB 1092 – (Christian)  Relating to the exemption from certain construction requirements for volunteer fire departments in certain counties

HB 1125 – (Burnam)  Relating to a study regarding the odorization of natural gas transported in gathering and transmission lines located in populated areas

HB 1147 – (Smith) Relating to notice by a governmental entity regarding certain geospatial data products.  SB 442 is identical

HB 1174 – (Workman) Relating to the expiration of a county burn ban

HB 1217 – (Miles)  Relating to a residential tenant’s right to vacate a dwelling and avoid liability for rent following the declaration of a state of disaster; providing a civil penalty

HB 1319 – (Laubenberg) Relating to the calculation and reporting of water usage and conservation by municipalities and water utilities

HB 1354 – (Davis, S.)  Relating to liability of certain certified municipal inspector for services rendered during an emergency or disaster

HB 1379 – (Anchia)  Relating to the purchasing of a firearm from the county by an honorably retired law enforcement officer

HB 1476  –  (Riddle)  Relating to the grounds for revocation of an emergency medical services personnel certification

HB 1561  –  (Orr)  Relating to the authority of a municipality to implement a photographic traffic signal enforcement system and impose civil penalties

HB 1619 – (Orr)  Relating to emergency services districts

HB 1711 – (Davis, John)  Relating to disaster remediation contracts; providing penalties

HB 1750 – (Darby)  Relating to the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation to lease and contract for the operation of rolling stock during certain emergencies

HB 1765 – (Miller, Sid)  Relating to an emergency public service messaging network.  Identical to SB 971

HB 1791 – (Kleinschmidt)  Relating to emergency services districts

HB 1861 – (Anchia)  Relating to the continuation and functions of the Commission on State Emergency Communications

HB 1878 – (Miller, Doug)  Relating to emergency service districts.  Identical to SB 917

HB 1911 – (Bonnen)  Relating to the liability of certain persons for damages arising from training exercises to prepare the persons to respond to certain emergencies

HB 1917 – (Schwertner)  Relating to the removal of appointed emergency services commissioners by a commissioners court

HB 1986 – (Turner)  Relating to the authority of the Public Utility Commission of Texas to ensure the Electric Reliability Council of Texas has adequate reserve power to prevent blackout conditions

SB 106 – (Davis, Wendy)  Relating to condemnation of municipal property for, and municipal regulation of, pipeline operations

SB 389 – (Williams)  Relating to emergency preparedness during an extended power outage of a water service provider with at lease 250 connections

SB 418   –   (Williams)  Relating to the carrying of concealed handguns by certain persons attending a school board meeting

SB 617  –  (Rodriguez)  Relating a manifest system to record the transportation of certain liquid wastes

SB 917 – (Wentworth)  Relating to emergency service districts

SB 969 – (Nelson)  Relating to the establishment of the Public Health Funding and Policy Advisory Committee with the Department of State Health Services

For a PDF listing:  billreport 3-02-11

If you know of other bills that I may have missed, please leave me a comment and let me know!  Thanks to those of you who have contacted me and made suggestions.

Also, please consider subscribing to this blog to receive the legislative information directly.





2011 Texas Legislative Session – February 26th

26 02 2011

Below you will find a listing of Emergency Management related bills as of February 26, 2011.   

The 82nd Texas Legislature will be in session 140 days.  The first day of the session was Tuesday, January 11, 2011 and the last day of the session is Monday, May 30, 2011.  The last day to file regular bills be Friday, March 11, 2011.  Governor Perry has until June 19th to review bills passed by the State Legislature.  He can sign a bill to authorize new law, or he can let a bill become law without signing, or he can veto a bill.

HB 1  – (Pitts) Relating to General Appropriations.  Among other things, this bill would reduce expenditures for 9-1-1 Network by 27%; reduce by 48% disaster funding to state and local agencies when the Governor finds the demands on funds regularly appropriated are insufficient to respond to a particular disaster; reduce by Criminal Justice grants by 55%, impacting the number of grants awarded from an estimated 900 in FY 2011 to approximately 520 each fiscal year of the 2012-13 biennium; and eliminate funding for the Flood Control Dam Grant Program which provides operations and maintenance, structural repair, and rehabilitation needs to flood control dams across the State.

HB 614   –  (Hopson)  Relating to allowing health care providers to provide services across state lines in catastrophic circumstances

HB 803 – (Bonnen) Relating to the penalty for failure to make a timely installment payment of ad valorem taxes on property in a disaster area.  SB 432 is identical

HB 805 – (Callegari) Relating the requirement that certain water service providers ensure emergency operations during an extended power outage

HB 837 – (Taylor, Van) Relating to the authority of peace officers to request thumbprints during motor vehicle stops

HB 993 – (Rodriguez, E.)  Relating to the closure of a road or highway by certain firefighters

HB 1030 – (Miller) Relating to the powers and duties of certain emergency services districts

HB 1075 – (Anderson) Relating to the consolidation of certain alert system into a single statewide alert system and to the addition of other factors that will prompt an alert under the consolidated system

HB 1092 – (Christian)  Relating to the exemption from certain construction requirements for volunteer fire departments in certain counties

HB 1125 – (Burnam)  Relating to a study regarding the odorization of natural gas transported in gathering and transmission lines located in populated areas

HB 1147 – (Smith) Relating to notice by a governmental entity regarding certain geospatial data products.  SB 442 is identical

HB 1174 – (Workman) Relating to the expiration of a county burn ban

HB 1217 – (Miles)  Relating to a residential tenant’s right to vacate a dwelling and avoid liability for rent following the declaration of a state of disaster; providing a civil penalty

HB 1319 – (Laubenberg) Relating to the calculation and reporting of water usage and conservation by municipalities and water utilities

HB 1354 – (Davis, S.)  Relating to liability of certain certified municipal inspector for services rendered during an emergency or disaster

HB 1379 – (Anchia)  Relating to the purchasing of a firearm from the county by an honorably retired law enforcement officer

HB 1476  –  (Riddle)  Relating to the grounds for revocation of an emergency medical services personnel certification

HB 1561  –  (Orr)  Relating to the authority of a municipality to implement a photographic traffic signal enforcement system and impose civil penalties

HB 1619 – (Orr)  Relating to emergency services districts

HB 1711 – (Davis, John)  Relating to disaster remediation contracts; providing penalties

HB 1750 – (Darby)  Relating to the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation to lease and contract for the operation of rolling stock during certain emergencies

HB 1765 – (Miller, Sid)  Relating to an emergency public service messaging network.  Identical to SB 971

HB 1791 – (Kleinschmidt)  Relating to emergency services districts

HB 1861 – (Anchia)  Relating to the continuation and functions of the Commission on State Emergency Communications

SB 106 – (Davis, Wendy)  Relating to condemnation of municipal property for, and municipal regulation of, pipeline operations

SB 389 – (Williams)  Relating to emergency preparedness during an extended power outage of a water service provider with at lease 250 connections

SB 418   –   (Williams)  Relating to the carrying of concealed handguns by certain persons attending a school board meeting

SB 432   –   (Jackson)  Relating to the penalty for failure to make a timely installment payment of ad valorem taxes on property in a disaster area.  HB 803 is identical.

SB 617  –  (Rodriguez)  Relating a manifest system to record the transportation of certain liquid wastes

SB 917 – (Wentworth)  Relating to emergency service districts

SB 969 – (Nelson)  Relating to the establishment of the Public Health Funding and Policy Advisory Committee with the Department of State Health Services

For a PDF listing the above bills:  billreport 2-26-11

If you know of other bills that I may have missed, please leave me a comment and let me know!  Thanks to those of you who have contacted me and made suggestions.

Also, please consider subscribing to this blog to receive the legislative information directly.





Studies explore working in a pandemic, working sick

2 10 2010

The Center For Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP) recently issued a report shed some light on the ability and willingness to work during a pandemic.  Lisa Schnirring, CIDRAP News Staff Writer, notes in her article published on September 30, 2010:

A new study suggests that about half of essential workers, such as police and emergency medical personnel, might be unwilling to work during a serious pandemic. Meanwhile, another study indicates that it’s common for employees in private industry to work while sick with flu-like symptoms.

Both studies were published on Sep 25 in an early online edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

In the first study, the goals of researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health were to assess the ability and willingness to work specifically during a pandemic and to gauge the opinions of not just healthcare workers, but also—for the first time—workers from other essential sectors such as police, emergency services personnel, public health workers, and corrections officers.

Researchers in the second study conducted a monthly survey of workers from three US companies to explore if flexible sick leave policies influenced employee decisions to work while sick with a flu-like illness.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has addressed both topics—risky work settings and flexible sick leave policies as a possible social distancing measure—in its pandemic guidance materials for employers.

Working in a severe pandemic setting
The Columbia University researchers recruited workers from Nassau County, in the New York City metropolitan area. The anonymous surveys asked employees about their ability and willingness to work during a serious pandemic. It was conducted from November 2008 to June 2009, a time that overlapped the first few months of the H1N1 pandemic. The survey also asked workers about their flu vaccination history, respiratory protection knowledge and use, workplace climate and trust, and employer pandemic planning.

They found that though 80% of workers would be available to report for duty in a severe pandemic, only 65% were willing. Less than 50% of the essential workers were both willing and able to report for duty. The proportion who said they were willing ranged from 56% in correctional workers to 74% in public health employees.

Investigators found that ability to work during a severe pandemic was closely linked to personal obligations, such as caring for children or sick family members.

Dr Robyn Gershon, professor of clinical sociomedical sciences at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, said in a Sep 28 press release that employer policies and programs can help workers meet their home obligations. “Even something as simple as making sure workers can communicate with their families while they are on duty can have a big impact on ability and willingness,” she said.

Among other findings, authors learned that participants had little confidence in respiratory protection, but would wear it at work in a pandemic setting. Only 9% reported they were aware of their employers’ pandemic plans, and only 15% said they had received training.

In what they called a surprising finding, the group found that 12% of study participants would consider retiring or leaving their jobs rather than reporting for duty in a severe pandemic. They said that outcome is a concern, due to a rapidly aging US workforce, many of whom are public service workers. “The development of strategies to retain these most experienced workers during public health emergencies remains an area for future exploration,” they wrote.

The authors recommended other simple strategies that employers can use to boost employee support during a pandemic, including a plan to vaccinate essential workers and their families as soon as a vaccine is available, getting guidance in advance about respiratory protection needs, and making sure employees know about the workplace pandemic plan.

The study group included many workers who were involved in the response to the Sep 11, 2001, World Trade Center terror attack, and the authors wrote that they, like other workers in the area, are “highly motivated and altruistic.” They cautioned that other workers in other areas might not be as responsive, and they recommended that further studies include essential employees in other geographic areas along with other types of essential workers, such as those in telecommunications, transportation, and commerce.

Which policies keep sick employees home?
In the flexible sick leave study, researchers recruited employees from three large US firms—a retail chain, a durable goods manufacturer, and a transportation company—and used a Web-based survey tool that asked them each month between November 2007 and April 2008 about flulike illnesses and workplace attendance. They also collected demographic information and details about employer-provided flexible sick leave policies, such as ability to work from home, adjustable working hours, or time off without pay.

Among 793 employees who said they were sick with a flulike illness, average duration of a severe infection was 3 days. About 72% said they worked while they had severe flu symptoms, on average for about 1.3 days.

The only flexible sick leave policy that was associated with working while sick was the ability to work from home. Those who were able to telecommute were 29.7% less likely to come to work sick with severe flu symptoms.

Researchers pointed out that the study is one of the first evaluations of the CDC’s recommendation to institute flexible workplace policies in advance of flu season.

They recognized that though social distancing makes sense, employers who are setting their personnel policies must weigh possible unintended consequences of telecommuting, such as shirking work responsibilities, against the drawbacks of working while sick.

However, they wrote that the ability to work from home minimizes the economic impact of the employee being away from the workplace.

The group concluded that the findings support CDC social distancing recommendations for flu seasons. “When feasible, employers that implement teleworking policies may be able to effectively reduce the likelihood of employee-to-employee transmission of respiratory illnesses, such as seasonal of pandemic influenza,” they wrote.





Using New Technology to Get the Message Out

26 07 2009

Along with others in the Houston Metropolitan Region, the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management is initiating the use of state-of-the-art technology to manage emergency public information

The PIER System is a crisis communications system that conforms to the Homeland Security Department’s National Incident Management System/Incident Command System standard established in March 2004. The Public Information Emergency Response (PIER) System is a Web-based virtual communications center meant to foster emergency communications regardless of circumstance. Acting as a control center the PIER System speeds internal and external communications by centralizing all functions, including drafting and distributing public information. As such, the PIER System is a quicker, smarter, and more efficient use of technology to provide essential coordinated communication such as:

  • Log-in from anywhere with Internet access.
  • Communicate/collaborate with each other by e-mail and live “conference room” chat.
  • Write, vet, and approve joint news releases and other JIC documents using PIER’s built-in workflow processes.
  • Post JIC documents, photos, and video to JIC and agency websites.
  • Send JIC documents to pre-populated, internal and external stakeholder contact lists via e-mail, fax, or text-to-voice telephone notification.
  • Allow authorized Internal personnel to log-in and view detailed Situation Reports.
  • RSS/XML interoperability with other systems such as RIMS or WebEOC.
  • Allow media, public, and other stakeholders to submit Inquiries by e-mail, phone, or website.
  • Track and manage every Inquiry from submission to response and closure.
  • Provide full documentation and reporting of JIC activities for each Operational Period.

During Hurricane Ike, Fort Bend County deployed four PIER Sites in varying degrees of completion including Judges, Health & Human Services, Office of Emergency Management and Sheriff’s Office. PIER was able to pool together these sites to employ working parts of each site in order to provide quick Hurricane Response. Furthermore, the lack of power for an extended period of time contributed to a number of callers asking for a significant amount of information in a very short period of time soon after regaining power. PIER was able to deliver timely, storm-related information in the midst of Ike to Fort Bend County’s half a million residents. The system received over 600,000 hits and the EOC sent over fifty news releases and advisories.

Likewise, the County’s PIER System proved to be of significant value during the H1N1 Pandemic beginning in April 2009. The County utilized this technology to improve information provided to responders and citizens, receiving 1,000 hits per day from community members. PIER allowed for the creation of an information portal and was updated with case counts daily. The information page was monitored regularly and consisted of continuous updates from Central Disease Control, World Health Organization, and Health & Human Services.

Not only was PIER able to reach out specifically to the community, but also to a controlled and private population. Specifically for H1N1, a password protected section was created for Emergency Managers, Hospital personnel, and Mayors. This password protected site on PIER held County Conference calls and posted that such information. Relevant sections from the Emergency Operations Plan, full copies of Situation Reports, key contacts and phone numbers were all posted in this password protection site to provide vital information to a selective group of people. Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management continues to maintain these specific pages as there is still a demand for information.

Although this project is relatively new in its implementation it has proved to be a successful work in progress. The Office of Emergency Management has been working diligently to make improvements based on lessons learned.  The County hopes to be even better prepared to get critical information out to the public and first  responders during the 2009 Hurricane season and, also, if the H1N1 Flu Event flares back up this fall as it is expected to do.