Public Media’s Role in Emergency Alert Services
Locally owned and operated public media stations are innovators and matchless partners to public safety officials, working with law enforcement, schools, businesses and others to provide real-time support in times of crisis. Since September 11, 2001, CPB has invested in building local station capacity to assist emergency service providers. Currently in many states and local communities, public media stations’ digital and broadcast infrastructure provides the backbone for emergency alert, public safety, first responder, and homeland security services.
Through unique partnerships, 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, connecting public safety agencies in real time and much more. 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:
- 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 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 special one and a half-hour program 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.
- 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.
- Leveraging the TV broadcast “one-to-many” multicast delivery, Houston Public Media (KUHT) can support an unlimited number of public safety users with very limited bandwidth concerns. The station can deliver secure, encrypted IP data to targeted, multiple 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.