A source of emergency power at both your studio site and your transmitter site is the foundation on which all operations rest during emergencies. The type and size of the generator and its method of installation will vary from station to station. But reliable generators, and a reliable source of fuel to power them, are a must.
The generator you select must have the capacity to support the station load. But this is not enough. Electrical loads have a way of increasing over time. Select your generator with extra capacity in mind so you can meet future demands. It is not unreasonable to specify a generator able to support twice the initial expected load. This will also allow the generator to operate at less than maximum capacity, extending its useful life.
Also consider the quality of the power the generator supplies. The equipment typically found in broadcast stations may demand better quality power than retail appliances found in a home. Items such as the uninterruptable power supplies often used to protect computers may be particularly demanding of clean power. So, plan to spend some time researching the frequency and voltage stability, and the amount of electrical noise associated with the generator you are considering. It will be time well spent.
Larger stations may choose a permanently installed generator. Such an installation is no small undertaking, requiring housing, venting, auxiliary equipment and fuel precautions that all must meet stringent codes. However the amount of power large stations require may only be available in large, permanently installed power plants.
Smaller stations with lower power demands may choose a transportable generator kept in a convenient and secure location. The electrical and fuel connections for such a generator may be pre-installed, ready for hook up when emergency power is required. When needed, the generator may be rolled into position, connected and started. Staff and volunteers should be trained in generator operation. This approach has the decided advantage of not requiring the level of installation associated with a permanent generator and avoiding the majority of code requirements while providing a reliable and relatively inexpensive source of emergency power.
The KWMR studio generator above is a 7kW propane fueled Onan unit. It is stored in a locked cabinet beneath the station porch. Note the electrical connection to the right of the cabinet. The propane connection, which has a padlocked on/off valve, is to the left of the cabinet. The generator has an electrical start. But there are three backups to give the best chance that the generator will start when needed:
The keys to the generator are kept in the key safe (the small white box to the upper right of the door) to avoid the need to search for the keys in a darkened station.
Diesel fuel is usually required for larger, permanently installed generators. Requirements for fuel containment to deal with leaks and spills, and proper fuel treatment for long term storage, must be provided.
Propane is usually the best choice for small stations, especially if the station location is already provided with propane service. Use of propane precludes the need for fuel containment or fuel treatment.
Gasoline is not recommended due to the problems with storing gasoline safely, the deterioration of gasoline over time and the probable unavailability of gasoline during an emergency, especially when electrical power has been interrupted.
Generators may be designed to start automatically when power fails. Likewise, an automatic transfer switch may be installed to switch the station from commercial power to generator power without operator intervention.
Automatic generator start and automatic power transfer are critical features that are virtually required for transmitter sites that have no personnel on duty. (The delay involved in getting a qualified person to the transmitter site, especially in emergency conditions, is simply unacceptable to most stations committed to emergency service.)
However, smaller stations may choose manual generator start and manual power transfer for their studio location. Indeed, manual start and transfer are the only available option for the type of transportable generator installation described above.
But even stations with permanent generator installations may not want their generator to start automatically at 2am when the station may be off the air or unattended. For example, if the station does not operate 24 hours a day, a power failure at 2am will start the generator but it will be running needlessly with nothing to power until someone actually arrives at the station to begin operations. Or, as another example: if the station is unattended and operating via an automation system, a 2am power failure and automatic generator start will keep the station on the air. But it may seem that the station is unmindful of the emergency which can cause great frustration to listeners.
Regular testing of the emergency generator systems is crucial. Without regular tests, system faults will be found at the worst possible time: when power is needed in an actual emergency.
Generator systems should be tested monthly, preferably with an actual transfer of station power to the generator. The results of each test should be kept in the generator log.
Avoid falling into the trap that the station systems are too critical to be put to a full test. Prior to the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, several critical telecommunications installations were provided with emergency power plants. But these installations were never tested on emergency power because they were considered "too critical to test". When the earthquake struck, the emergency power for all these installations failed due to faults that would have been detected in a full test. Their failure had a significant adverse impact on recovery efforts. The lesson learned is to test your emergency systems in the ways they will actually be used.
Generator maintenance is as critical as generator testing. Keep a log of all generator use. Regularly inspect the generator for leaks, damage or corrosion. Change the oil and filters as recommended by the manual, according to the hours shown in the generator log. Be sure to note each inspection and any maintenance done in the generator log.
The generator start battery requires particular maintenance attention. A generator that can't be started is useless in an emergency. Avoid this by providing a permanently connected battery charger/maintainer for all generator start batteries. Institute a program of regular battery maintenance.
When operating on generator power it may not be readily apparent when commercial power has been restored. A commercial power indicator light, placed in a visible location at the station, will show when normal power has returned and the station can switch back from generator power. Note: Use a long life indicator light designed for this purpose, since a burned out indicator will never do its job.
Install UPS units for protection of vital infrastructure (eg. computers and phone system) during power surges or transfer to generator. Caution: select UPS units that will tolerate generator power and that turn themselves off when the switch to generator power is made. Establish a regular program of UPS battery replacement. For full performance, most UPS batteries should be replaced once a year. To expedite this process, select UPS units with easy battery access.
UPSs have application even in stations equipped with emergency power generators as a means to bridge the gap between the failure of commercial power and the provision of generator power. Care should be taken when selecting a UPS for this service since some UPS devices will not recognize generator power and will continue to try to supply power from their own internal batteries even after generator power becomes available.
Telephone lines are the primary means of voice communications into and out of a broadcast station in an emergency. While standard phone lines, known as POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) lines, are among the most reliable means of communications, station equipment attached to them may be vulnerable. Stations using VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phone service may have no POTS lines at all. The station phone lines and systems should be reviewed with all possibilities from power loss to physical damage in mind, with a view toward assuring that telephone service will be available in an emergency.
Most stations use PBX (Private Branch Exchange) systems to handle calls and voice mail. These systems must be fully protected against power surges and power failure to avoid leaving your station without phone service in an emergency. If the PBX uses VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) lines, the hardware associated with these lines must be protected as well.
Most well-installed phone systems are equipped with battery-powered backup power systems. However, these systems may be able to support the phone system for only a matter of hours. Assure that the phone system is supplied with power from the emergency generator so that phone service will be available even after the battery backup system is depleted.
Failure to provide long term emergency power for the station phone system may result in the frustrating situation of having perfectly good phone lines entering the station while a dead PBX prevents these lines from being used.
Old fashioned telephone lines, called POTS lines (for Plain Old Telephone System), are among the most reliable means of voice communications in an emergency. No matter what kind of PBX a station may use and whether the PBX uses POTS lines or Internet based VoIP lines for connection to the outside world, it's a good idea to have several POTS line telephones available for use at critical points in the station. To provide maximum reliability, these telephones should be connected directly to the phone line itself with no intervening electronics of any kind. Avoid the use of cordless phone systems in association with these lines since such systems rely on power to operate.
In extreme situations, all terrestrial and wireless phone systems may be overloaded, damaged or destroyed. In such situations, phone communications may be maintained through satellite-based systems. While these too may become overloaded in a wide area emergency, they provide a way to bypass damaged or destroyed infrastructure and make contact with the outside world.
Handheld satellite phones are available for voice communications. While these look like over-sized cell phones, there are significant differences between satellite and cell phones that must be kept in mind. First among these is the fact that satellite phones must have a clear view of the sky to operate. Therefore they will not function inside buildings or even outdoors if there are obstructions like buildings blocking significant parts of the sky. Hand held satellite phones are most useful for making outgoing calls and are less useful for receiving incoming calls, unless someone stationed at a location with good satellite reception is dedicated to this task.
Several satellite phone systems are available. One of the most widely used is the Iridium system, with several different models.
Connection to the Internet may be maintained via satellite data terminals. The most widely used version of these is called BGAN (for Broadband Global Area Network). BGAN terminals operate through the INMARSAT system of geostationary satellites and provide data download speeds up to 384 kbps.
Like all satellite based systems, BGAN terminals require a clear view of the sky to operate. But beyond that, BGAN terminals must be able to "see" the southern area of the sky (in North America) in order to link with the INMARSAT satellite.
Several models of BGAN terminals are available, each with various options including the capability to make and receive voice calls. All models allow the satellite Internet connection to be shared with multiple users via a LAN (Local Area Network). Some models allow the satellite internet connection to be shared with other users via a WiFi connection.
The availability of immediate assistance via 911 service has become so common that it's easy to forget that there are areas of the country without such service. Native American communities are those most commonly beyond the reach of 911.
Stations in these areas have both the opportunity and the obligation to serve their community as "public safety hubs". Some stations have designed their studio facilities so that they can house public safety agencies in an emergency. Special phone lines may be dedicated to this purpose. The agencies to be represented will vary depending on the location of the station. Examples include the fire and rescue agencies serving the area, plus specialized agencies such as the Border Patrol or Bureau of Indian Affairs. The idea is to allow the station to become a call center that community members know they can rely on.
The Internet and the services it supports have become important conduits for news and information for many public broadcasters. Careful thought should be given to assuring that your Internet-based services remain viable in an emergency situation.
Decide in advance what your online content priorities will be in an emergency, and allocate resources accordingly. Develop a strategy and best practices for your station's website in emergencies. These might range from simply delivering your live on-air stream, to engaging audience fully in interactive social media activities that gather and report the news. (Note: Please see the SAFER Social Media Appendix http://www.saferstations.org/soc-en/index.html for additional information)
The station website can provide important information ranging from weather to flood warnings to evacuation and shelter information. Even if your broadcast signal is off the air for any reason during the emergency, your website can still serve as a resource.
Extend your existing relationships with other media in your community (and region) to the web. Are there partnerships and initiatives you can tap into that will support your online activities in a time of emergency?
One recent example is the work coordinated by Crisis Commons after the earthquake in Haiti. Groups of volunteer developers gathered in cities around the globe to collaborate on digital initiatives. Examples included a tool that matched relief organizations with willing donors, a Creole translator for mobile devices, and a tool that combined missing persons databases with mapping technology. All the activities and initiatives are described in the CrisisCommons Wiki (a collaborative website for sharing and updating information), accessible via their website: http://crisiscommons.org/
Manage expectations of what listeners can find on your site. If your site is already an interactive social media portal with features like blogs, forums and video galleries, decide whether you can sustain and enhance those that activities during an emergency, and plan accordingly. If you currently serve a more static, one-way informational site, plan for how to keep that site relevant and current during a crisis.
Make use of online widgets that aggregate readiness content and push it to your site. Many government organizations and non-profits (for example the Centers for Disease Control, FEMA, Department of Homeland Security, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, American Red Cross) provide these types of tools. The SAFER website has a comprehensive list of tools and best practices for displaying content on your site: http://saferstations.org/
Live online programming feeds (streams) have become an important source of information for many listeners. If your over-the-air signal is down in an emergency, a live online stream that listeners can hear via computer or mobile devices can become even more critical for listeners within the emergency zone, and for those who have been evacuated but need to continue to monitor developments at home.
Section 4.2.1 of this manual covers the need for providing redundancy and backup for a station's data resources. The servers that provide streaming services should be assigned a level of importance equal to the other servers containing valuable station data.
Examine your online vendor relationships, and determine in advance the answers to questions about domain redirection, power pathing, and host server capacity.
KPBS-FM's experiences with coverage of the California wildfires in 2007 is often used as a case-study example of how online resources were deployed to keep listeners informed.
KPBS-FM, serving the San Diego region, was knocked off the air on October 23, 2007 when the Southern California wildfires destroyed power lines that fed its transmitter on Mount St. Miguel. The station, which had provided its listeners with wall-to-wall terrestrial and Internet radio coverage throughout the emergency, scrambled to increase its streaming capacity to accommodate concerned listeners in San Diego and beyond. With assistance from the Integrated Media Association (IMA), a nonprofit organization focused on Internet policy, practices and service for public broadcasting, KPBS contacted StreamGuys, Inc. of Northern California to provide a robust streaming platform to handle the increased website traffic. StreamGuys configured a new stream for KPBS across multiple servers capable of supporting upward of 5,000 listeners, using the existing KPBS stream for source. StreamGuys e-mailed a new stream address to the station, which was quickly placed on the website and accommodating KPBS listeners within minutes.
Work with your Internet service provider to ensure a robust streaming platform during emergencies. If your broadcast signal is off the air, it's likely that you will experience an increase in overflow traffic to your site from concerned listeners looking for emergency information updates.
Establish a relationship in advance with your service provider in the event that you will need to bolster stream capacity under emergency conditions. Work out with them what level of support they can offer, who to contact directly to set this up when the need arises, and what the technical specifications are for making the updates. Then make sure that this exchange and the technical adjustments are built into your emergency plan.
Online tools like blogs, social networking sites and RSS feeds make it possible to reach large numbers of people with critical information in emergencies. Properly used, they can become powerful social, political and information tools. But of course these networking services are only as good as the information fed into them.
It is important to establish and follow best practices for shaping and managing your interactions and your messaging. In this section, we will focus on social media use specifically in the context of emergencies.
Decide now how interactive your station will be able to be, as this is a commitment of staff and technical resources. Will you use social media sites, blogs, photo galleries and other tools to crowd-source information and display it on your site and your air? Or will you simply use them to push reliable information from vetted sources out to your listeners?
Develop your social media networks in advance of an emergency. Each station should consider establishing accounts on simple social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, if you haven't already. These sites are free to use, and simple to set up and maintain. They should complement your station's other communications efforts.
Because social networks require people to sign up to follow or join them, you should establish them as part of your station communications long before an emergency strikes. You want as many followers as possible, to help you distribute your information as widely as possible when disaster strikes. And you want to build trust among your online followers that you are a regular and reliable source of fresh information. Building that trust takes time and repetition.
Consider partnering on social media messaging with the same community partners that you have built relationships with for emergency response. Many state and local government agencies now are creating their own Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and YouTube channels as another way of reaching citizens with emergency information. For university licensees, find out how to integrate your social media communications with the university's policy and practices. Campus emergencies like the shootings at Virginia Tech have revealed an overwhelming need for university emergency communications to include not only the students but the surrounding neighborhoods, parents, friends and loved ones, and the media.
The responsibility for providing information via these social networking services should be specifically assigned to a station staff member or team. Train staff and volunteers in best practices so that everyone is comfortable with the purpose, etiquette and technology.
It has become standard procedure to protect the computers holding vital station data with uninterruptable power supplies and regular backups. But this will not suffice in emergencies that may damage computers or make them inaccessible. Backup servers located at secure, off-premises locations are required.
Numerous companies are in the business of providing reliable and highly secure off site backup for digital records at reasonable cost. Arrangements can be made directly with these companies (or via the station or licensee) IT department (if one exists).
Our homes and offices seem like permanent structures. Even though we know rationally that they can be destroyed or made unusable, it is hard to imagine that actually happening. That's why it's important to make arrangements for alternate station housing before the worst happens, when the luxury of time for planning exists.
If the station premises have been made unusable you'll need secure, dry, warm (or cool) office space immediately. There are a couple of options for achieving this in minimum time.
Temporary offices like those seen at construction sites are available for rent. These can be towed into position and installed quickly. They typically come equipped with office spaces, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) and sanitary systems. Various sizes and configurations are available depending on need.
Smaller stations may find that a recreational vehicle (RV) can meet their needs. RVs have several advantages:
A cache of basic equipment stored in a secure, off-site location will be invaluable in emergencies in which station equipment is lost, damaged or put beyond reach. Each station and each engineer will have a different idea of what should be in such a cache. But at minimum it should contain a mixer, microphones, headphones, microphone cables, plenty of AC extension cables and a means to connect this equipment to the transmitter.
Radio equipment has become so compact that it is possible to assemble a virtual radio station in a box, sometimes called a "fly-away kit", for use when time permits only a "grab-and-go" response. Numerous vendors now supply remote broadcast equipment complete with mixer and connection equipment that will work with everything from a satellite connection to a POTS line. Even if the budget won't support current, cutting edge equipment it should be possible to assemble a kit of basic equipment in a transport case that can be immediately grabbed when the need arises.
Except for stations where the studio and transmitter are co-located, the STL (stands for Studio Transmitter Link) is usually the means for connecting the studio to the transmitter. This may be a radio link or an IP (Internet Protocol) link. If backup STL equipment can be part of the off-site equipment cache, then the station can be put back on the air (assuming the transmitter is undamaged) from a from a wide number of locations.
If the station uses a radio link for the STL, any location that can "see" the transmitter site can be used, although the receiving antenna at the transmitter may have to be re-aimed at the new location. If the station uses an IP STL then the station can be put on the air from any location where a good Internet connection is available.
One inexpensive way to have an emergency STL ready to go is to purchase a pair of Barix boxes. The pair consists of a data transmitter and receiver that work over the public internet. They provide a high quality audio feed wherever a good Internet connection is available.
Transmitter sites are typically located away from the station itself and often have their own source of emergency power. Broadcasting from the transmitter site also eliminates the need to establish an STL connection with the studio or other location. These factors make transmitter sites viable locations for continued station operations when the main studio is compromised.
However, most transmitter locations were not designed with local broadcasting from the site in mind. There is often no easily available way to connect local studio equipment to the transmitter, the location is often remote and access to telephone lines may be minimal. But only a small amount of effort is required to provide easily available connections to the transmitter audio input that will allow equipment brought to the site in an emergency to be quickly connected and put into service.
A source of food and water is of critical importance in an extended emergency. Supporters who normally feed station staff during events like pledge drives will be busy taking care of themselves in an emergency.
Sanitary facilities (portable toilets) and sleeping facilities are equally important for staff that may be isolated at the station during an emergency.
Emergency food kits can be assembled with relatively little expense using compressed "lifeboat" rations for long term storage. If these blocks of food don't look particularly appetizing, don't worry. In time of need they will be very welcome indeed. Similarly, supplies of water with long shelf life may be obtained.
People don't usually think of sanitary facilities until they aren't available. But if the supply of water is interrupted it will no longer be possible to use the normal facilities. A small, portable camp toilet, or several of them, with plenty of supplies, is an important part of any emergency kit.
Sleeping facilities are important too, especially for staff who may be marooned at the station. Several sleeping bags and sleeping mats will allow exhausted staff to catch up on sleep when they can.
Station vehicles, including privately owned vehicles of station staff, will become critical in an emergency.
At the first hint of a shortage of fuel, the lines at gas stations may become blocks long. Always drive on "the top half of the tank", meaning that the fuel tank should be refilled when if becomes half empty, not fully empty. That way you will always have a fuel reserve of at least half a tank.
For privately-owned vehicles or station vehicles without identification, it may be useful to have magnetic signs made with the station logo or other identification that can help gain access to restricted areas. These can be stored in the vehicle for application when needed.
In an emergency the tendency will be to respond immediately with whatever transportation is available. However, it is vital to confirm beforehand that insurance coverage does indeed extend to the drivers and the vehicles, both station-owned and privately-owned vehicles that are used on station business.