Public Media’s Role in Emergency Services
Locally owned and operated public media stations are innovators and trusted partners to public safety officials, working with law enforcement, schools, businesses, and others to provide real-time support in times of crisis. In addition to keeping the public informed with broadcast updates during emergencies, many public media stations also assist first responders.
Through unique partnerships and collaborations, public media stations customize their use of their infrastructure to support public safety in a variety of critical ways. Examples include equipping police cars with school blueprints when a crisis arises, providing access to 24/7 camera feeds for public safety challenges, and connecting public safety agencies in real time. Many stations serve as their states’ primary Emergency Alert Service (“EAS”) hub for weather and AMBER alerts. Local public television and radio stations also send emergency alert text messages through broadcast equipment to cell phone subscribers, reaching citizens wherever they are, even when the power is out.
Life-saving services that stations offer include:
- The Florida Public Radio Emergency Network (FPREN), a collaboration of 13 public radio stations headquartered at the University of Florida’s WUFT-FM/TV in Gainesville, provides statewide multimedia updates during hurricanes or other emergencies to stations across the state, their websites, social media channels and on mobile devices via the Florida Storms app. The free app, which has been downloaded more than 100,000 times, provides geotargeted information such as live hurricane forecasts, evacuation routes and shelter details in addition to live streaming the closest Florida public radio station — a particularly valuable feature for those evacuating from one part of the state to another. In September 2017, FPREN provided more than 81 hours of live, continuous coverage as Hurricane Irma moved across the Florida Keys and up the Gulf Coast.
- Alabama Public Television’s (APT) microwave system serves as the backbone of Alabama’s Emergency Alert System, distributing national, state and local emergency broadcast signals to all radio and television broadcasters throughout the state. APT is also the hub for the state’s Amber Alert system to track missing children.
- Vegas PBS provides a full range of Emergency Alert Services including severe weather and civil alerts. It broadcasts geo-targeted alerts on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security’s Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN) system, which provides instant message style warnings to wireless providers and their subscribers. PLAN sends emergency alerts only to mobile devices located within the affected areas.
- Twin Cities PBS broadcasts weather watches and warnings in English, Spanish, Hmong and Somali on Channel 2.5, reaching a million households in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Today’s public media resources are advancing efforts to strengthen disaster preparedness by bridging communication gaps. Speakers of other languages can now receive emergency alerts in languages that were previously distributed in English-only formats. In addition to weather warnings, TPT NOW is working alongside public officials and diverse communities to promote TPT NOW as a go-to source for health and safety information.
- During and after devastating floods of 2016, Louisiana Public Broadcasting not only provided critical information and valuable resources on air and in its website but also functioned as a distribution center for much needed supplies, clothing, toys, and other donations from public broadcasting stations and their employees across the country. LPB raised relief funds for critically damaged and relocated schools through Education and Recovery: LPB Gives Back, a 90-minute special focusing on the needs of the affected schools. LPB employees set up Reading Corners in the evacuation shelters with books and toys for children driven from their homes.
- Through a CPB grant to NPR, six California public radio stations (Capitol Public Radio, KCBX, KCRW, KQED, KPCC and KPBS) participated in the Great California ShakeOut earthquake preparedness drill sending text/image metadata in addition to live over-the-air broadcasts. In emergency situations, these stations can now present emergency alert information on mobile devices and other digital platforms such as HD radios, ”connected car” devices, Radio Data System displays, and online audio streaming. Through another CPB grant, NPR is providing up to 30 more public radio stations in 10 Midwest, South Central and Gulf Coast states with the hardware and software to connect with the metadata platform to give them the same capabilities.
- Maine Public Broadcasting Network makes its statewide system spectrum available to federal and state authorities to communicate with first responders and the media in the event of an emergency. The closed communication system is designed to work even when internet connections are down and the power is out.
- South Dakota Public Broadcasting serves as the emergency alert service hub for the state as well as the primary outlet for AMBER Alerts and weather warnings.
- WHUT-TV in Washington, D.C. partners with the U.S. Park Police to distribute helicopter and other video services during large crowd events in the city. This work has been critical during Presidential inaugurations, the Fourth of July and other large-scale events on the National Mall.
- Houston Public Media (KUHT) can deliver secure, encrypted IP data to targeted, multiple public safety users while continuing its television broadcast service. With this targeted, encrypted data delivery system, for example, police can watch a helicopter aerial feed, fire fighters can watch a dashboard camera, another entity can send building blueprints, and television viewers can watch a program all at the same time.
- Ohio Educational Television Stations, Inc., in partnership with the Ohio Emergency Management Agency and the state’s Broadcast Educational Media Commission (BEMC), is strengthening the state’s emergency messaging infrastructure. The Ohio Digital EAS (OEAS) is an alternative, secure IP-based delivery system for the dissemination of emergency information to the public and first responders utilizing all 12 of Ohio’s public television stations that reach virtually all 11.5 million Ohioans.
- MontanaPBS is working with the Governor’s office at the State Capitol building in Helena, the offices of the Montana National Guard and Department of Emergency Services at Fort Harrison in Helena, and the Montana Broadcasters Association to create a public safety information and communication partnership. Once established, MontanaPBS will leverage its role as the state’s widest reaching state network, covering over 80 percent of the Montana population with over-the-air service, to distribute important public safety messages and information during an emergency.