Nature will always throw something at you that you could not reasonably have foreseen.
Broadcast stations, in return for the privilege of being broadcasters, owe a special responsibility to the communities they serve in times of emergency. This is particularly true of public and community stations which often have close ties to the people, emergency responders and relief agencies in their listening area. In return for their financial support of the station, listeners expect that the station will be there for them in an emergency, providing the information they need to protect themselves and their property from danger.
It is not enough for a station just to agree with the principles of community responsibility. Adequate emergency preparedness requires the adoption of a well thought-out station emergency plan and a commitment to keep that plan current and functional.
Creating and adopting an emergency plan need not be burdensome. Much of what is required may already be in place. The most important factor is the specific acknowledgement by station management of the responsibilities the station has to its listening community. The elements of the emergency plan will flow from this acknowledgement according to the specific needs of the station and its listeners.
A memo will not usually be adequate to start a station on the path toward a workable emergency plan. A face-to-face, all-staff meeting is typically the required starting point.
The foundation of station emergency preparedness is the emergency plan. The first hours of an emergency will be confused, hectic and sometimes frightening. This is the period when the emergency plan is most useful. The structure of an emergency plan will provide the guidance and direction that can help create an organized response to the situation. In this manual we'll go through the step-by-step process of creating such a plan for your station.
The finished plan must outline how your station will respond to emergencies. Each plan must of necessity be unique to the station it serves. Yet certain basic elements will be a part of every emergency plan. These elements should include at a minimum:
The safety of staff is of paramount consideration. If there is any question that the normal station offices and production areas are unsafe to occupy or may become so in the near future, plans for alternate station housing must be put into effect.
The forces that may compromise station integrity will vary with the event. Wind, water and earth movement are among the greatest dangers. Sometimes several forces combine to produce damage in multiple areas. WXEL in West Palm Beach, FL incurred extensive wind, water and structural damage in 2005 as a direct result of Hurricane Wilma
Station personnel may be the most familiar with their station's areas of vulnerability. In the event that time and logistics may not permit the services of a professional structural engineer to assess station damage, station personnel may be called upon to make decisions based on the best information they can obtain on the spot.
For example, see how WHYY in Philadelphia, PA has incorporated information about the structure and responsibilities of its damage assessment team into its business continuity plan:
WHYY has also created a chart to help guide the decision-making process during station damage assessment that may be adapted to other stations and situations:
Staff members of a broadcast station carry a heavy responsibility to their community in times of emergency. In this they are like first responders in the law enforcement and fire services. The staff at a broadcast station are the information bridge between the first responders and the public, providing information vital to the safety of life and property. Just as members of the community expect the police and fire services to respond when called, they expect their broadcasters to be there when they need them most.
Broadcasters also have responsibilities to their homes and families. But they have a public duty too, and they should be prepared to carry out that duty when it matters most, just as first responders do.
All staff members should know what their duty is in an emergency and where they are to report in order to fulfill that duty. It will be understood that in some cases the emergency itself will prevent some staff from reaching their duty stations. Nevertheless it is important for staff to understand fully what their duties are in an emergency so they may make the best possible attempt to carry them out. Establish and distribute the emergency response plan on paper and online. Include it as part of the employment briefing for new staff and emphasize its importance.
For a small station the basic Emergency Response Plan may be very simple, indicating where each staff member is to go and what they are to do when they get there. Here's an example of such a basic plan in use at KWMR in West Marin, CA:
Larger stations may wish to designate certain groups of employees as first or second level Emergency Employees, each with a designated level of responsibility to the station in an emergency.
It's important to know who is in charge during an emergency. While the normal station management structure may be disrupted, it is still useful to create and distribute a chain of command document so that the general outline is known.
The chain of command also allows staff to see immediately where vacancies may occur and where others may need to step in to assume added responsibility.
Here's a sample chain of command for a small station:
A fundamental part of any emergency plan is a staff contact list including phone numbers, email addresses and any other appropriate means of contact. Assuring staff safety and gathering staff together will be part of the first phase of station response to an emergency. The staff contact list is a vital part of that first phase.
Creating a staff contact list is easy. Keeping it up to date is the more difficult but critical task. The staff contact list must be reviewed periodically for accuracy and updated. This task should be carried out twice a year if the list is to have real value in an emergency.
A printed staff contact list is likely to be filed in a folder and placed in a drawer, putting it beyond reach in many emergency situations. A contact list in electronic form and kept on computers, PDAs or smartphones may be better. But the best form for the contact list may well be a laminated card carried in your wallet. This low tech version of the list is the one most likely to survive and be available when needed most.
KWMR's pocket list is simple and ideal for lamination:
Table 1.1. KWMR Contact List
The general Emergency Response Plan may be augmented with a single page document posted in on-air studios and control rooms showing the progressive levels of station response corresponding to each level of emergency. These can range from watchful waiting to complete dedication of station facilities to the emergency.
Here's the Emergency Response Level document in use at KWMR:
WAMU in Washington DC, a university licensee based on campus, has an emergency plan that contains specific procedures for station evacuation. A particularly notable feature of the WAMU plan is the designation of a check-in point where staff will gather after the evacuation:
To reduce the shock effect of an emergency, get into the habit of thinking "What would I do if it happened right now?" Station personnel should use this technique - a mental rehearsal for the actual event - at various times during the day and ask themselves what their immediate reaction would be if the emergency happened right then. What would they need to grab? Where would they go? Whom would they contact? These rehearsals cost nothing and don't disrupt regular routing. But they increase the chances that in the actual event the proper response will be almost automatic.
An actual emergency is the worst possible time to establish relationships with local service agencies, when they will be at their busiest and most pressed. So it is important to establish a personal, working relationship with these agencies well before the emergency arises so that station staff will be well known to them and, even more important, trusted.
Establish or strengthen personal contact with law enforcement, fire service and other emergency personnel. Personal contacts often trump paperwork. Personal contact may be easier for small stations in small communities, but all stations can become part of emergency preparedness organizations and attend meetings of city or county boards and committees. The objective is to become known and trusted by emergency personnel so they will turn to you as a matter of course when the public must be made aware of important information.
Here are the agencies a station will need to have contact with during an emergency and the type of information typically available from each:
Personal relationships with these agencies may be built up in the same way as any others. An initial contact in a social setting, at the station or at the emergency facility is an excellent beginning. Make sure the agencies know the home phone numbers of critical station staff and encourage them to call at any time. Expand this initial contact through participation in community drills and exercises. It is through these types of events that the agencies will see that station staff are professionals and can be trusted. And that the station is a valuable community asset, a tool they can use in furtherance of their duties during emergency situations.
A contact list for these agencies can be added to the reverse side of the Staff Contact List, for example:
Table 1.2. Local Agency Contact List
While personal contacts with emergency agencies are highly valuable, events that take place over a large area may prevent contact with personnel you know. In some jurisdictions broadcasters are considered first responders. Even if this is not the case in your area, obtain an official pass -- for both personal and vehicle identification -- from law enforcement for priority staff. Unofficial, station-created passes should also be provided. Here's an example to modify:
Local emergency responders may know and trust station personnel. But in a large event emergency personnel may be brought in from outside the area. Typical examples include the National Guard or law enforcement and fire personnel from other areas providing mutual aid in the stricken area. Credentials identifying you as a responsible member of radio station staff can be critical in this situation. These credentials may be station-generated or provided by official sources. But in either case they should be kept with you, and kept current, at all times.
The Emergency Alert System may be a primary source of official emergency information. Confirm that your EAS equipment is in good working order and that staff are trained in its use. Confer with your EAS committee or working group for a full understanding of who is authorized to issue alerts and what they expect of you as a broadcaster. Confirm that the alert codes programmed into your EAS conform to the type of emergencies likely to occur in your area.
Larger stations with paid staff, or stations that receive a large number of EAS messages that do not affect their listening area, may wish to delay the broadcast of EAS messages so they can be reviewed and sent at an appropriate time. Small stations with volunteer staff may wish to program their EAS equipment for immediate transmission of EAS messages to avoid the possibility that an important message will not be broadcast due to operator error or confusion.
EAS equipment may be programmed to respond to specific warnings. Ensure that your equipment is programmed to respond to events that might be expected in your area. Here's a list of weather-related EAS events along with the associated EAS codes that can be programmed into your equipment:
Table 1.3. EAS Event (NWR-SAME) Codes
Several other non-weather related codes are available in the EAS system. The codes you select will depend on the type of events typically experienced at your location and station policy regarding the carriage of non-weather related events such as child abduction ("Amber") alerts.
If your station normally broadcasts in more than one language, consider putting in place a plan to assure that alerts in those languages can be broadcast in time of emergency. If your station is the sole service station with a significant listening population that does not speak English - regardless of whether you broadcast in English only - consider making advance arrangements to provide alerts in those non-English languages.
At the time of writing the requirement for stations to comply with the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) is coming into effect. CAP allows the transmission of detailed messages and files in digital format using several delivery methods (satellite, the Internet, etc.) It also permits the transmission of alert messages to devices such as smart phones. While some aspects of CAP are as yet undecided, especially on the state level, the basic facts regarding what CAP means to stations are known.
Some manufacturers offer adapters to make older EAS equipment with the CAP standard. Such adapters may save money in the short run but if you choose this option check them carefully to assure that they will work correctly with your existing equipment.
The FCC rules permit certain EAS alerts to be delayed before broadcast to allow for an appropriate break in programming. Larger stations with adequate trained staff may wish to implement such delays as a matter of policy. However smaller stations may wish to program their EAS equipment to broadcast alerts immediately and automatically. While it may surprise on-air personnel when their programming is interrupted this may be preferable to trying to train volunteer personnel in the procedure required to get an important alert on the air.