Footage of the devastation in Moore, Oklahoma, has been a powerful reminder of our responsibility as broadcasters. Since the storm, Radio Ink has reported on multiple situations where radio stepped up and came through for the community. I watched a terrifying YouTube video, shot from a moving vehicle, of the storm coming across the land. You can hear the storm sirens in the background, and the warnings being broadcast by a local radio station, urging everyone to take cover. That station gave "play-by-play" of the tornado, describing where it had hit and warning those in its path.
Once again, radio played a critical role when the power was out and when the urgency of the spoken word saved lives.
Concerns have been raised about stations that played the hits while the storm was bearing down, continuing to operate from a satellite or voicetracking feed, with no live or local information. Though word is that some such stations eventually joined in simulcasts to help communicate information, these are the moments when all of radio needs a better plan. Though the temptation exists to pile on and be critical when the music continues to play as blood is spilled, it raises an issue that we all need to address as broadcasters.
The lack of live and local programming under normal circumstances, let alone in an emergency, is an ongoing concern among many broadcasters. I think it's unrealistic to expect companies that have found an effective means to cut costs with satellite programing or voicetracking to return to the way things once were. Rather than trying to change that, perhaps we should look for a hybrid solution to address moments like this, when emergency coverage can save lives. I honestly believe the CEOs and board members of radio companies that weren't able to broadcast warnings would trade in all their cost savings to save lives. Though you may not like their style of operating, these are still deeply caring people at the helm.
In a split second, with no warning, any radio station in the world may face a disaster like the Oklahoma tornado. It may be a tornado, an industrial explosion like the one recently seen in West, Texas, a hurricane, a bridge collapse, civil unrest, school shootings, or some other, unforeseen disaster. There may be no time to make phone calls and work out a plan. We, as broadcasters, need to have our emergency plans in place ahead of a disaster. We owe it to the obligations that come with the licenses we hold, and to the communities that trust and support us.
The reality is that most radio stations no longer have reporters on staff. But typically there will be one or two stations in a market that still have news departments. We need to take a lesson from Hurricane Katrina, when New Orleans stations quickly dropped their competitive differences and began to simulcast one signal on all stations, with their staffs all participating in the coverage together.
I'd like to call on all market managers and general managers in every city and town in America to gather in your market to discuss an emergency plan, and I'd like to ask those who run our radio companies to support that effort. In that meeting, competitive issues must be put aside and a plan made. Who is going to offer coverage to the community, and who is going to carry it? There may be more than one station willing and able to offer coverage, but in particular, any station that has limited or no resources to go live needs to find a way to participate in this plan.
In addition to the managers, I encourage you to invite your mayor, your city manager, county officials, emergency services coordinators, local weather officials, and the Amateur Radio Emergency Service -- registered ham radio operators who may be able to get communications through to stations if phone lines and the Internet go down. Your community needs to know the plan at every station, which will be broadcasting live in an emergency, and what happens if a tower or shared tower goes down.
In addition, there needs to be a unified plan for how stations and the community can work together to help families reunite during a disaster. One of the big issues after the recent storm has been how difficult it has been for people to get information on how to locate their loved ones. Your ability to put people on the air to help find their families could make a huge difference.
If you make a plan before it's needed, that will demonstrate radio's continuing desire to coordinate with city and county officials to help the community. Of course, the EAS system is supposed to help, and it does. But there is evidence EAS is failing in some situations, and it always needs to be supplemented with specific warnings and information that a general emergency warning service cannot offer.
Radio continues to be America's lifeline. In Oklahoma, lives were saved by radio stations broadcasting warnings. An annual meeting, a plan, and good communication with your team members -- surely it's not too much trouble or expense to go to if it helps radio save more lives.