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Case Study:  Lake Tahoe, California

December 2010
Taking It Straight to the Public:  Portable Radio Stations to Broadcast Lake Tahoe Area Emergency Info
When emergencies happen in the communities joined by the necklace of roads adorning Lake Tahoe, the results can be anything but charming. Motorists approaching an incident can be sandwiched between traffic gridlock, steep cliffs and the shoreline, unable to turn around or even reach a detour or evacuation route.

“What prompted our Chief to want to utilize this kind of system in the first place, were two large fires in the Lake Tahoe area. One was in our district that traveled rapidly from a residential area into the wildland. We have a two lane highway around the lake. We have one feeder route into and out of Tahoe City. Predictably, at the "Y" there was a traffic jam. The phones were ringing off the hook at our local fire station to where it became undoable to answer all the questions,” recalls Chris Stulik, assistant to the North Tahoe District's public information officer. “The transmitters would have been an excellent way of helping to inform people to keep out of the area and to call the emergency number for updates.”

The North Tahoe Fire Protection District has recently included two of the RadioSTAT transmitters as standard equipment on their Public Information Trailers, for quick deployment when and where needed.

“We anticipate avalanche situations and road closures due to floods that we often see here in the mountains. We have a very huge influx of tourists during the summer and the RadioSTAT transmitters will be an invaluable tool to help maintain continuity during any kind of an emergency in managing people and traffic and providing them current and valid information by directing them toward other initial assistance.

Recently,” adds Stulik, “there was a smoke incident at a local elementary school. Everyone is just fine and the emergency was handled very well. If something like that had escalated, Chief Whitelaw of North Tahoe Fire loves the idea of being able to address the parents by broadcasting to them locally, where to pick up their children.”

The challenges of this environment are shared by all public agencies in the area, and so the District is making the RadioSTAT units available on an inter-agency basis. The Placer County Sheriffs Department has been drilled on their use and deployment, along with Citizen team leaders, the Red Cross, neighboring fire agencies and even the local Airport authority. “It is being viewed as a mutual asset in time of need because of our remote position in the mountains,” says Stulik. “The two lane highway around the entire lake - and routing out of here - demands quick response and very accurate logistics in evacuating people to shelters during an emergency event.”

“This trend among agencies of emergency management, as well as public health, police, fire, and federal agencies such as USDA, (US Department of Agriculture), BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and the National Park Service to employ this technology continues to gain momentum,” asserts Bill Baker, spokesman for “AAIRO,” a national association of station operators. Baker states that the FCC/NTIA (Federal Communications Commission/National Telecommunications & Information Administration) databases currently list more than a thousand such stations operating in all 50 states.
Public Information Officer Dave Zaski (left) and Thomas Cravener lead training on RadioSTAT Portable Emergency Advisory equipment at North Tahoe (CA) Fire Protection District.
 
Lake Tahoe area and surrounding roadways. The North Tahoe Fire Protection District is responsible for areas generally north and west of the Lake. 
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