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.

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On This Date: March 28, 1979

28 03 2011

The Three Mile Island accident was a partial core nuclear meltdown in Unit 2 (a pressurized water reactor  manufactured by Babcock & Wilcox) of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania near Harrisburg  in 1979.

The power plant was owned and operated by General Public Utilities and Metropolitan Edison (Met Ed). It was the most significant accident in the history of the USA commercial nuclear power generating industry, resulting in the release of up to 481 PBq (13 million curies) of radioactive gases, and less than 740 GBq (20 curies) of the particularly dangerous iodine-131.

The accident began at 4 a.m. on Wednesday, March 28, 1979, with failures in the non-nuclear secondary system, followed by a stuck-open pilot-operated relief valve (PORV) in the primary system, which allowed large amounts of nuclear reactor coolant to escape. The mechanical failures were compounded by the initial failure of plant operators to recognize the situation as a loss-of-coolant accident due to inadequate training and human factors, such as human-computer interaction design oversights relating to ambiguous control room indicators in the power plant’s user interface. In particular, a hidden indicator light led to an operator manually overriding the automatic emergency cooling system of the reactor because the operator mistakenly believed that there was too much coolant water present in the reactor and causing the steam pressure release. 

The scope and complexity of the accident became clear over the course of five days, as employees of Met Ed, Pennsylvania state officials, and members of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) tried to understand the problem, communicate the situation to the press and local community, decide whether the accident required an emergency evacuation, and ultimately end the crisis. The NRC’s authorization of the release of 40,000 gallons of radioactive waste water directly in the Susquehanna River led to a loss of credibility with the press and community.

In the end, the reactor was brought under control, although full details of the accident were not discovered until much later, following extensive investigations by both a presidential commission and the NRC. The Kemeny Commission Report concluded that “there will either be no case of cancer or the number of cases will be so small that it will never be possible to detect them. The same conclusion applies to the other possible health effects”.  Several epidemiological studies in the years since the accident have supported the conclusion that radiation releases from the accident had no perceptible effect on cancer incidence in residents near the plant, though these findings are contested by one team of researchers.

Public reaction to the event was probably influenced by The China Syndrome, a movie which had recently been released and which depicts an accident at a nuclear reactor. Communications from officials during the initial phases of the accident were felt to be confusing.  The accident crystallized anti-nuclear safety concerns among activists and the general public, resulted in new regulations for the nuclear industry, and has been cited as a contributor to the decline of new reactor construction that was already underway in the 1970s.

The incident was rated a five on the seven-point International Nuclear Event Scale: Accident With Wider Consequences.