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Case Study:  Los Alamos, New Mexico

July 2011
National Lab Threatened by Flames; Evacuees Updated Real Time by ALERT AM
Residents and workers fleeing the flames near Los Alamos National Laboratory listen to AM 1610 to receive special directions and fire updates. With only two roads leading in and out of the area, motorists have few evacuation options. The special radio service was initiated in 2007 by Los Alamos County’s Office of Emergency Management, with the knowledge that some day it would be called on to protect lives and property.
Photos courtesy of emergency coordinator Philmont Taylor
It's clear why Los Alamos was selected as the site of the Manhattan Project during WWII: there are only two roads in and out, one from the East and one from the West.
Says Emergency Manager Phil Taylor, "Our community's experience with the Cerro Grande fire of 2000 and the recent Las Conchas fire prompts frequent calls to 911 asking if they need to evacuate for even the slightest hint of smoke in the air."

Dual ALERT AM Stations in Los Alamos and White Rock not only provide motorists details about wildfires but also traffic accidents causing road blockages, road construction and emergency drills at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Two transmitting facilities cover the population in the area, each covering 25-75 square miles.

"Shortly after the OEM was activated, I put out an announcement containing situation analyses and for folks with respiratory sensitivities to consider voluntary evacuation. The second day, I used 1610 a LOT along with our reverse 911 to do the actual evacuation of the town site. I had to do it in four stages, and later on, a final 'you MUST get out NOW..." message. ...I must've changed messages at least three times each day, with just station ID and situational awareness messages running on the active playlist (no weather). I'm now broadcasting at least one fire-related message, road closure info and weather loop.

"About the only improvement I can think of right now [that we could make] would be ... to stream 1610, since most folks have computers, and even if they're evacuated out of the coverage range, they could still listen."

Philmont Taylor
Office of Emergency Management Website
Los Alamos, New Mexico
Background
Dual ALERT AM stations were set up by EOC personnel in 2007. Taylor described the rationale: 

"Our fundamental emergency public information requirements probably don’t differ substantially from those of any other jurisdictions. Primarily, we’re interested in a methodology that will allow us to expeditiously communicate emergent information to as many people as possible within our jurisdictional boundaries. We have the following constraints/challenges:
  • Small, isolated, mountain community – two roads leading in/out – deep canyons and high mesas.
  • Limited commercial radio/TV coverage.
  • Large daytime transient population/commuters who work at a National Laboratory.
"Possible emergency scenarios include . . .
  • Severe weather events with corresponding school/Laboratory closures.
  • Traffic accidents that interrupt normal commutes.
  • Evacuation/shelter-in-place instructions.
  • Any emergency public warning/information that needs to be disseminated RIGHT NOW.
"We used these creative methods to make citizens aware of the station:
  • Press release (he got the local press to do an article right after the station went 'live').
  • Bill-stuffer in utility bills.
  • Laboratory incorporation of the press release in their internal newsletter.
  • Mention of the station by EOC personnel at every speaking opportunity.
  • The schools send info home with the kids.
  • Refrigerator magnets, pens and pencils to hand out at fairs, booths.
  • Descriptive blurb with EOC email signatures."
See portable radio stations with exceptional functionality in use to convey fire information by dozens of state and local governments, the National Park Service, USDA Forest Service and various fire protection districts in the Western USA. See Alert Stations across America. See also National Parks that Have Used Info Radio.
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