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.





Fort Bend County 1670 AM

7 03 2009

am-alert-sign-009Just over one year ago, Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management solicited other jurisdictions and agencies to assist with a petition that would provide more flexibility to those who operated low-power AM radio stations, like Fort Bend County 1670 AM. This station is operated by Fort Bend County OEM. Similar stations are operated by other jurisdictions in our region, including the City of Stafford. Over 35 installations are currently operating in Texas. These stations are operated by cities, counties, private companies, universities, state agencies, and federal agencies. The purpose of these stations is to provide emergency information to travelers and citizens about such things as road closures; chemical releases; weather information; et cetera. These stations are a critical part of the emergency notification system in jurisdictions across the country. Much has happened since the petition was sent to the FCC. The primary purpose of the petition was to help ensure that FCC regulations and procedures would be worded in a manner to protect emergency advisory radio stations such as the one used by Fort Bend.

The American Association of Information Radio Operators (AAIRO) was founded in 2008, after a coalition of public safety, transportation, university and outdoor recreation officials informally petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the clarification of Travelers Information Station (TIS) Part 90 Rules. A link to AAIRO can be found in the Blogroll In the era of post-September 11, America’s public safety officials sought to utilize Information Radio Station technology to further public safety in ways not previously envisioned by the original rule-writers in the mid-1970s. The FCC just issued a notice inviting public comment on the petition that the American Association of Information Radio Operators (AAIRO) submitted last year. Whether or not you are an AAIRO member, I urge jurisdictions and agencies to register your support before the FCC makes a ruling on the petition. Why? Because the petition asks the FCC to make clear that licensed information radio station operators (such as Fort Bend County and the City of Stafford) may broadcast any public safety message at any time that is deemed to further the protection of life and property. It also requests that rules be clarified so the operator of the station has the authority to make this decision. (Go to this link if you would like to read the exact wording of AAIRO’S petition: www.aairo.org/fcc-petition.htm)

It’s easy to register your comments in one of two ways. Pleaser either write a brief note and email it to info@AAIRO.org. AAIRO will gather comments and submit them to the FCC by the March 16 deadline. Or, you may submit your remarks directly at the FCC website http://http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/prod/ecfs/upload_v2.cgi. Be sure to include the docket number 09-19 (in the “Proceeding” field) and be sure to mention the AAIRO petition in your comments. The deadline is March 16, 2009. We live in an unpredictable world with many people on the road at any given time. There should be no question that operators of Travelers Information Radio Stations should have the right to transmit critical information to travelers as needed, and at any time.