Emergency Alerts

Public Media’s Role in Emergency Services

Locally owned and operated public media stations collaborate with law enforcement, schools, businesses and others to provide real-time support in times of emergency. In many states and local communities, public media stations’ digital and broadcast infrastructure now provides the backbone for emergency alert, public safety, first responder, and homeland security services.

The Florida Public Radio Emergency Network
The Florida Public Radio Emergency Network provided multimedia coverage of Hurricane Matthew.

Since September 11, 2001, CPB has invested in building local station capacity to assist emergency service providers. These partnerships include equipping police cars with school blueprints when a crisis arises, providing access to 24/7 camera feeds for public safety challenges, connecting public safety agencies in real time and much more. Many stations serve as their states’ primary Emergency Alert Service hub for weather and AMBER Alerts. 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 provides geotargeted information with live hurricane forecasts, evacuation routes and shelter details in addition to live streaming the closest Florida public radio station.
  • Through CPB grants to NPR, six California public radio stations and 27 public radio stations across 10 states vulnerable to tornadoes received the software and training to connect with PRSS MetaPub. This delivery system issues text and graphic alerts synchronized with over-the-air broadcast messages to be heard and seen on mobile phones, HD radios, “connected car” devices, Radio Data System displays, and online audio streaming. The California stations successfully tested the use of metadata emergency alerting during the Great California Shakeout earthquake drill in 2016 and demonstrated how stations can bring better immediate emergency communications to audiences.  
  • 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 Alabama’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.
  • During and after devastating floods in 2016, Louisiana Public Broadcasting provided critical information and valuable resources on air and online and functioned as a distribution center for much needed supplies, clothing 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 special one and a half-hour program focusing on the needs of the affected schools. LPB employees set up Reading Corners with books and toys for children in the evacuation shelters.
  • Maine Public broadcasting network makes its statewide spectrum available to federal and state authorities to communicate with first responders and the media in the event of an emergency. The one-way 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 users while continuing its television broadcast service. This encrypted data delivery system can deliver a helicopter aerial feed to police, dashboard camera footage to firefighters, building blueprints to specific users, and television programs to public viewers all at the same time.
  • Twin Cities PBS broadcasts weather watches and warnings in English, Spanish, Hmong and Somali reaching a million households in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. In addition to weather warnings, TPT is working along with public officials and diverse communities to promote TPT NOW as a go-to source for health and safety information.
  • 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.