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.

Advertisements




Good Work – Mike Fisher, Bastrop County

30 12 2012

When I hear about Emergency Managers doing good work, I like to recognize them in my blog.  The Austin American-Statesman recently noted that Mike Fisher, Emergency Management Coordinator from Bastrop County, was recognized with the Jack Griesenbeck Leadership in Regionalism Award.  This is an honor awarded annually by the Capital Area Council of Governments.  The Council recognized Fisher with the award for his dedication to wildfire prevention and his commitment to emergency response with a regional approach.

MikeFisher12-12-12The CAPCOP website indicates that Fisher’s “distinguished career includes experience in various crucial capacities with the City of Bastrop and Bastrop County, including a decade of service as the city’s fire chief. In addition, Fisher is a founding member of the Capital Area Wildfire and Incident Management Academy at Camp Swift in Bastrop County. This year marks the 15th continuous offering of the academy, held each October. In September 2011, Fisher served as the local incident commander along with state and federal counterparts to manage the Bastrop County Complex Wildfire.”

“Fisher is currently assigned as deputy team leader of the Capital Area Type 3 Incident Command Team; serves on the state’s Emergency Management Preparedness Grant Advisory Committee; and since 2006 has actively served on CAPCOG’s Homeland Security Task Force, which provides regional coordination and response for major events such as the Bastrop County fires. Among his many honors and awards, Fisher also was named Citizen of the Year by the Bastrop Chamber of Commerce in 2011.”

“The CAPCOG award is named after former Bastrop County Judge Jack Griesenbeck, who served as the agency’s first chair in 1970. Griesenbeck, who  understood the need for collaboration across city and county lines, played a key role in creating the 24-member Texas Association of Regional Councils.”

Many emergency managers across the State of Texas are working on regional approaches to deliver services to citizens in a more effective manner.  It is nice to see Mike Fisher get noticed for his efforts!





Are Drones a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

12 12 2012

The following article was first published in Governing magazine, and then later in Emergency Management magazine.  Written by Eli Richman, and published by Emergency Management on November 30, 2012, the article provides an overview of the use of drones by emergency responders in the United States.  It is becoming apparent that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, can assist law enforcement agencies in a variety of activities.  As pointed out in the article, perhaps it could be helpful in finding a lost hiker in a national forest.  Closer to home, perhaps a drone could have been used a few years ago when local responders attempted to find a missing kayaker lost on a stream in Fort Bend County?

Drone owned by Montgomery County TexasFire first responders could use such a tool also; perhaps for getting a birds-eye view of a hazardous materials incident or major fire.  Think about how valuable the use of such equipment might be as hundreds of responders attempt to fight a raging wildfire in close proximity to a subdivision.  Emergency managers could use an unmanned aerial vehicle for conducting damage assessments after a hurricane.  It would seem to be an efficient way of getting needed information without putting responder lives at risk.  As a matter of fact, it has recently become known that NASA is readying a couple of experimental UAVs to track future storms.  Why?  To assist communities in preparing for the storms.  

For more information on NASA’s use of drones:   http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/10/hurricane-hunters/

But, the use of drones is not without controversy.  Many individuals have privacy concerns, thinking that use of such equipment is confirmation that “Big Brother” lives and is trying to gain personal information from innocent citizens.  In addition, some politicians have indicated that the purchase of drones with homeland security monies is a suspect expenditure.  Hopefully, any legislation related to government’s use of drone technology will incorporate logical regulations that will still allow first responders to use UAVs for saving lives, arresting criminals, and assisting responders to extinguish fires.

No jurisdiction within Fort Bend County owns a drone.  As you will note in Mr. Richman’s article, Montgomery County does have a drone in their equipment inventory.  What does Fort Bend County do when we need to get a birds-eye view?  Probably, the first request would be to the Houston Police Department; we would request for assistance from one of Houston’s police helicopters.  Another possibility, would be utilizing the Civil Air Patrol (CAP); today, Texas has 3500 volunteer members who are active in Civil Air Patrol.  CAP is an outstanding resource for conducting inland search and rescue missions.  And, of course, contacting Montgomery County, and requesting mutual aid assistance would be another option.  Over the last several years, counties in the Houston area collaborate closely in matters of emergency response.

So, to give you an overview of this topic, please read the attached article.  It provides a balanced viewpoint on the issue of using drones.  If you have any thoughts on the subject, please feel free to make a comment on the blog site.

 

Drones:  The Future of Law Enforcement?

Eli Richman

Law enforcement officials say that’s not their intention, and they couldn’t use drones that way even if they wanted to. “We did not obtain this for the purpose of surveillance,” says McDaniel. “Our ShadowHawk’s maximum aloft time is only two hours and 20 minutes, and you would never fly it for that length of time to begin with.” FAA regulations prohibit drones from flying higher than 400 feet, and they require that drones remain in line of sight of the user. In other words, says McDaniel, if a drone’s around, you’ll know it. “It’s not like its 30,000 feet up in the air and you can’t see it and you can’t hear it. It’s going to be visible to the naked eye, and you’re certainly going to hear it.”

Current drone technology may not lend itself to stealth surveillance, but that’s why privacy legislation should be passed now, before it becomes a problem, say advocates. “While drones are new and novel and everybody’s worried about the privacy issue,” says Stanley, “we need to put in place some farseeing rules and protections that will cover every possible evolution of this technology.”

So far, no state has passed legislation regulating drones, although New Jersey took a preliminary step in June by introducing a bill that outlined warrant procedures for law enforcement’s use of drones. In August, the International Association of Chiefs of Police adopted guidelines for the use of unmanned aircraft. The guidelines call for transparency in how the vehicles are used, and say that any images captured by aerial drones and retained by police should be open to the public. In cases where drones might collect evidence of criminal wrongdoing, or if they will intrude on reasonable expectations of privacy, guidelines suggest police should obtain a prior search warrant. Those instructions aren’t binding, but they’re a good start, privacy advocates say.

At the federal level, the ACLU has recommended that government use of drones be banned except in very specific cases. One piece of legislation has been introduced in Congress by Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, which would ban domestic governmental drone use except in patrolling the border or in high-risk security situations. The bill currently lacks bipartisan support. While the ACLU says the bill isn’t perfect, its legislative counsel Chris Calabrese says the bill is “starting in the right place, and we’re going to work with him as he moves forward.”

In addition to questions about privacy, another concern is drones’ security. First, there’s the immediate worry that comes from allowing individually operated aircraft in domestic airspace, particularly in a post-9/11 world. That concern was borne out last year, when a man in Massachusetts was thwarted after attempting to equip several drones with C4 explosives and fly them into the Capitol and Pentagon. Second, civilian drones can be hacked, or “spoofed,” by a counterfeit GPS signal. (Unlike military GPS signals, civilian signals are not encrypted.) The spoofed drone thinks it’s in a different place, allowing the hacker to take rudimentary control of it. In a demonstration in June, the University of Texas’ Humphreys led a team of researchers who successfully hacked into one drone’s navigation system.

Regulating this type of vehicle typically would fall under the purview of Homeland Security, but that department has so far declined to regulate the UAV industry. That’s a major problem, says Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management. “I find this to be a bit of a ‘nobody’s minding the store’ type scenario,” McCaul says. “No federal agency’s willing to step up to the plate, and when you have the [Government Accountability Office] saying the DHS needs to do it, I tend to agree with them.” Without regulation at the federal level, security oversight could fall to individual states.

For his part, Humphreys says he’s not overly worried about drone security. Spoofing a UAV requires a high level of expertise and very expensive software. But as with the privacy issues, it’s an issue that almost certainly will be exacerbated as technology advances. “What my nightmare scenario would be,” he says, “is looking forward three or four years, where we have now adopted the UAVs into the national airspace without addressing this problem. Now the problem is scaling up, so that we have more heavy UAVs, more capable UAVs and yet this particular vulnerability isn’t addressed.”

There’s no question that unmanned aerial vehicles could forever change crime fighting, disaster response and a host of other functions. Given the push from the federal government, it seems inevitable that drones will increasingly be a part of police assets around the country. But it’s important to address concerns over privacy and security now, says Humphreys. “Let’s let it go ahead,” he says. “But let’s be vigilant.”





3/4’s of Texas now back in drought

28 11 2012

I recently came across the article below on the HoustonTomorrow website (www.houstontomorrow.org).  In what follows, you can read Matt Dietrichson’s article which discusses a new report indicating that most of Texas is facing severe drought conditions.  At this time, the Fort Bend County average KDBI drought index is 549.  Perhaps not time for a burn ban, but it is definitely drying out in our area and the Office of Emergency Management and the Fire Marshal’s Office will be monitoring the dryness level on a continual basis.  Our neighbors in Brazoria County have a KBDI level over 600 and have implemented a burn ban.  With dry conditions, the possibility of wildfires is a distinct possibility.  Hopefully, a few good thunderstorms will produce the rain that is needed, but as the article below indicates, there is also a good chance of continued dryness.

Though conditions are still much better than they were a year ago, a new report from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows the majority of the state is in a drought, according to Eric Berger in the  The Houston Chronicle:

The latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor, released this morning, shows that more than three-quarters of Texas is now in at least a “moderate” drought, and nearly half the state is in a “severe” or worse drought.

Now to be clear, conditions are still far better than 13 months ago, when the great 2011 drought peaked. At the time 100 percent of Texas was in a moderate drought, 99 percent in a severe drought, and 88 percent in an exceptional drought.

But conditions have gotten quite a bit worse since May, when the drought was at bay for about half of Texas, including the Houston metro area. Now the majority of greater Houston has returned to drought conditions.

Although November isn’t over, it’s possible Texas could end with its driest October and November period since 1950, says Victor Murphy, a climate specialist with the Southern Region Headquarters of the National Weather Service.

Statewide average rainfall for Texas in November 2012 should be about 0.5 inches versus a normal of nearly 2 inches, he said.  That would make the October/November time period total about 1.3 to 1.4 inches, or about 30 percent of the state’s normal of 4.60 inches.

There are two take-aways. First, although climate change is having an effect on Texas, most notably in temperatures, there are no indications it’s having a meaningful effect on rainfall trends, especially in the October/November period.

With that said, it’s a bit concerning to me that the October/November period the state is currently enduring may end up being drier than the October/November period in 2010, when 1.85 inches of rain fell. That launched the state in the great drought of 2011.

I’m not saying that will happen again. It very likely won’t. But it’s certainly not a good way to go into winter.





September 7th Needville Wildfire Intentionally Started

30 09 2011

Houston Chronicle article published on September 28th notes that a recent fire in Fort Bend County was intentionally set.  The article by Dale Lezon is below.

A fire that burned 400 acres and charred a barn in the Needville area earlier this month was intentionally set, officials said.  The blaze, dubbed the Baker Road Fire, started at the corner of a pasture on Foster School Road near Brinkmeyer on Sept. 7, according to the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office.

The blaze raced southwest and jumped Baker Road. It also destroyed a facility that housed two vehicles and travel tailer. More than 100 firefighters from 20 agencies from nearby areas, including the Needville Fire Department, battled the blaze.

Officials said one firefighter, whose name has not been released, was injured. Officials did not release the firefighter’s injury or condition.  A total of $10,000, including $5,000 from Fort Bend County Crime Stoppers, Inc. and another $5,000 from a private property owner, has been offered for information leading to the charging or arrest of the person or persons responsible for the blaze, officials said.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office at 281-341-4665 or Fort Bend County Crime Stoppers, Inc. at 281-342-TIPS.

wildfire in a rural portion of Fort Bend County northwest of Needville burned about 500 acres on Sept. 7. Here, Ben McCary and Dale Oberhoff of the Fairchilds Volunteer Fire Department battle the fire.





Drought and Fire Danger Continues in Fort Bend County—but rain may be on its way

19 06 2011

As you can tell from the chart below, the KBDI continues to increase in our region.  As I blogged about previously, the higher that number, the more chance for wildfires.   KBDI levels and its relationship to expected fire potential are reflected in the following table:

KBDI = 0 – 200: Soil moisture and large class fuel moistures are high and do not contribute much to fire intensity. Typical of spring dormant season following winter precipitation.

KBDI = 200 – 400: Typical of late spring, early growing season. Lower litter and duff layers are drying and beginning to contribute to fire intensity

KBDI = 400 – 600: Typical of late summer, early fall. Lower litter and duff layers contribute to fire intensity and will burn actively.

KBDI = 600 – 800: Often associated with more severe drought with increased wildfire occurrence. Intense, deep-burning fires with significant downwind spotting can be expected. Live fuels can also be expected to burn actively at these levels.

Here are the numbers for our region.  Notice the steady increase in the KBDI level for all counties within our region.  It remains to be seen if our area will see any relief. 

COUNTY

6/13

6/14

6/15

6/16

6/17

6/18

6/19

Austin

708

712

715

718

721

725

728

Brazoria

740

742

745

747

750

752

754

Chambers

715

719

722

726

729

732

735

Colorado

696

700

703

707

710

714

718

Fort Bend

699

703

706

710

714

717

720

Galveston

672

676

680

684

688

691

695

Harris

725

728

731

734

737

740

742

Liberty

716

720

724

728

732

736

739

Matagorda

659

663

667

671

675

679

683

Montgomery 

736

739

742

745

748

750

753

Walker

683

688

694

699

704

709

714

Waller

698

701

705

709

712

716

719

Wharton

667

671

675

679

683

687

691

Weather forecasters are giving us all some hope for rain in the coming week.  There is a disturbance moving to the west-northwest to northwest in to the Bay of Campeche and into the western Gulf of Mexico over the next 3-5 days.  Forecasters are indicating that the system could provide shower and thunderstorm activity along the northwestern Gulf Coast by the middle to the end of this week.  Keep your fingers crossed!





More About the Keetch-Byram Drought Index…..

16 06 2011

In my last post, I explained KBDI; the Keetch-Byram Drought Index.  Today, I am posting information about what the KBDI levels are in the counties in the Houston-Galveston area.  Any number over 600 indicates a severe drought with increased possibility of wildfire occurrence.  As you can readily tell, the levels in our 13 county region are largely over 700.  In fact, the 14 day forecast indicates that all 13 counties will soon be over the 700 level. 

As the KBDI levels increase, it becomes more and more prudent for local governments to give consideration to restrictions on the use of fireworks.  Limitations on fireworks describe as “rockets on sticks” and “missiles with fins” have now become commonplace in our area.  Many counties in Central and Western Texas have completely banned the use of fireworks.  These counties include Bexar, El Paso, Hays, Lubbock, Potter, Randall, Travis, and Williamson.

 

KBDI LEVELS IN H-GAC COUNTIES

COUNTY

6/13

6/14

6/15

6/16

Austin

708

712

715

718

Brazoria

740

742

745

747

Chambers

715

719

722

726

Colorado

696

700

703

707

Fort Bend

699

703

706

710

Galveston

672

676

680

684

Harris

725

728

731

734

Liberty

716

720

724

728

Matagorda

659

663

667

671

Montgomery 

736

739

742

745

Walker

683

688

694

699

Waller

698

701

705

709

Wharton

667

671

675

679