January 2020 EMA Issue Printable PDF of this Issue
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 Publisher:  Information Station Specialists
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Darkened Cities Keep
Residents Enlightened via Radio
Portola Valley CA Announces Plans to Upgrade Info Radio Signal due to Outages
Road Closure Caused by the Kinkaid Fire
PORTOLA VALLEY, CA: When wildland fires threaten California neighborhoods and power service is severed, residents are turning to radio as their main – and sometimes only – information source. Certainly, all-news broadcasters like KNX in Los Angeles and KSRO in Santa Rosa (North Bay area) are go-to stations for general information. See Radio Ink article.

But some affected communities, such as Portola Valley and Vacaville, California, are running their own radio services to ensure that tailored, timely updates reach their citizenry.
"People are very reliant on our AM station. We knew this would be the case, but wow."
Ray Rothrock, Portola Valley, CA
Asserts Portola’s Ray Rothrock: “As we are living in real time with these power shutoffs, the AM radio has become essential to our cause and communications.” Rothrock is a member of the Local Emergency Preparedness Committee that assists with the AM Information Station’s operation. He is also a long-time amateur radio operator, versed in the skills required to keep the radio station’s day-to-day functions optimized.
Portola Valley Emergency Preparedness Committee in Action
As a result of the station’s obvious benefit to public safety, the town has opted to upgrade to RadioSAFE status: moving the antenna to a higher location while applying to the FCC for an upgraded signal, to better push their broadcasts into the corners of the community. They will be substituting a HPR.0990 Antenna for their existing antenna and will enlarge the antenna’s groundplane – changes that will combine to boost signal levels to double or more.

A nearby military base is making parallel moves due to a recent outage that did not affect operations but did leave nonessential functions in the dark.
Proposed Portola Valley Information
Radio Coverage on AM frequency 1680
Portola Valley instituted their Information Radio service in 2013 and has operated at conventional power levels as prescribed by FCC Rules Part 90.242 since that time. But according to local leaders, the value that the service brings to the community has been brought into sharp focus by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E’s) fire-related power outages. You can hear a recorded emergency broadcast message from October 8, when PG&E announced the planned outage schedule. In this 3-minute message, residents are advised of the announced outage timetable and how to navigate it in terms of personal safety procedures and planning.

In addition to broadcasting these messages via radio, the community also simulcasts the programming to mobile devices and PC’s using the StreamCAST service, at a cost of less than a dollar a day.
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Please Don't Go!
Kentucky Emergency Managers Advise When Not to Take to the Highway
LA GRANGE, KY: Ramp metering controls the rate at which drivers merge onto a busy thoroughfare. But Oldham County Kentucky’s emergency managers are going one step farther by advising motorists when not to enter their busy highway – at all!

The County, adjacent to Louisville, is bisected by Interstate 71, a major commute route into and out of the city. When a major incident backs up I-71 traffic, unaware drivers often inadvertently add to the congestion by entering the fray at one of the County’s four interstate interchanges. Often an emergency is in progress in the interstate corridor and safety officials would prefer that motorists take surface routes to steer clear of the incident while responders are working it. Now, eight wirelessly controlled, solar-powered signs have been installed in advance of the associated entrance ramps to tell people to stay on the surface streets when interstate gridlock sets in.

When activated, the signs’ 12” amber beacons flash to attract attention, while “Stealth Sign” LED displays can be independently selected to advise against going north, south or both north and south.

Designed in coordination with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, the unique system is controlled on a VHF radio frequency from the Oldham County Emergency Management 911 Center at La Grange, Kentucky. It may represent the first instance of a local department of emergency management advising drivers on the status of traffic conditions on a federal interstate highway.
Countywide Emergency Radio to Debut in Maine
Waldo County, Maine, First to Deploy New Wide Area "RadioSAFE" Emergency Radio Service
BELFAST, ME:  It’s not the first time a communication innovation has come out of the State of Maine. In 1868, Mainer Joseph Stearns came up with a way to carry on two ends of a conversation simultaneously on the same wire, revolutionizing the telegraph – and later what would become the telephone – industries.

In that spirit, one Maine county, with the assistance of seasoned Amateur Radio Operators, is implementing the nation’s first county-wide emergency broadcast system, utilizing universally available AM radio channels. The new wide-area “RadioSAFE” system will be utilized in emergency / disaster situations in which citizens are cut off from power and communications – something that could easily have happened had Hurricane Dorian steered a slightly different course.
“We realized that the last option most people have for getting information is by broadcast radio.”
Dale Rowley, Waldo County Emergency Management Director
It was December 2013 when the County experienced a massive ice storm that crippled the power grid for a full week. EMA Director Dale Rowley recounts, “We established an emergency shelter but could not get the word to residents that the shelter was open! They couldn’t watch TV; and their smart phones batteries were dead. We realized that the last option that most people have for getting information is by broadcast radio through their car radio or with small battery-operated receiver. Then we found out about emergency radio advisory stations.”
Though a power outage is the number one situation in which they will utilize the service, emergency management officials say it also could be helpful in large-scale evacuations due to forest fires, HAZMAT spill or other hazard that would endanger the public.

The County is erecting signs and will be using all local media to promote the presence of the emergency service. “Then during an emergency, we will send out a WEA (Wireless Emergency Alert) to cell phones directing people to tune to the AM station for more detailed information." adds Rowley.
Waldo County's Aborn Hill Road antenna site will host the first RadoSAFE System.
Recognizing that an emergency AM radio system capable of covering their entire county was not an off-the-shelf item, in 2018 Waldo County reached out to Information Station Specialists to propose the parameters of the new service. That prompted the company to design the HPR.0990 High Performance Antenna, which has the efficiency and power handling capability to cover a radius of more than 20 miles. The antenna is designed so that existing Information Station licensees can upgrade to it, if the physical and spectrum space exists at their locations. Condensed versions of the RadioSAFE system are also available that have 7-10-mile and 3-5-mile signal coverage radii. Depending on the version, a waiver and/or a Temporary Authority (STA) may be required from the Federal Communications Commission.

The County then obtained a Subrecepient State Homeland Security Grant to cover the costs. The RadioSAFE Wide-Area Emergency Broadcast System was designed as a result of the County’s expressed needs and is under construction at this time on a hilltop tower site, centrally located near the town of Knox, Maine. Adjacent Lincoln County in Maine is proceeding with engineering work on a similar system for their jurisdiction.

Amateur radio pros Brit Rothrock (Communications) and Robert Hoey (GIS) within the Waldo County Emergency Management Agency are doing the system planning and will be installing the new service at the County's Aborn Hill tower site. The County's RadioSAFE System will operate on AM frequency 530 kHz, a channel designated exclusively for TIS service in the United States. There are no other broadcast stations on 530 kHz in the Nation now, making it an ideal channel for emergency use.

Frequencies for RadioSAFE operation are not universally available. Planning a new system – or considering an upgrade to wide-area coverage by an existing Information Station operator – will begin with a frequency search to determine availability.

The new RadioSAFE System will be offered in 3 coverage levels: 
  1. RSF:500.10X - 10-watt enhanced coverage 24/7 plus wide-area coverage on a temporary basis.
  2. RSF:10X – 10-watt enhanced coverage 24/7.
  3. RSF.10L – localized coverage 24/7.
In subsequent issues of The Source, we will keep you in touch with progress, so you can track each stage of the Waldo County station's construction. Email us for more information on RadioSAFE Systems for your community.
Florida District to Use Radio at School "Reunification Stations"
First in Nation to Leverage Radio to Inform Parents about Children in Emergencies
OKALOOSA COUNTY, FL:  The hope is that it will never be required; but one school district in Florida is testing the InfOspot License Free Radio Station for possible use at parent/child “Reunification Stations” – the meeting places where parents and children reconnect after a school emergency.
Via text/call, the District will advise parents of the pick-up location. As they approach it, they will see portable signage set up by the District to direct them to the radio frequency. The repeating broadcast will give important procedural information and what to do and expect, when they get out of their cars.

See the article "School district's active shooter training focuses on student reunification; training teaches how to reunite parents, students after emergency" by Ezzy Castro, July 18, 2019, at Orlando.com News.

Some schools such as Hunter Middle School near Chattanooga, Tennessee, use the system for day-to-day parent information, often with messages recorded by students as part of their media educational experience.

Watch future issues of The Source to learn about the development of this technology for school districts.
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That's a Lot of Signal
Literally. This new quick-deploy radio station is specifically for parking-lot-sized applications.
Emergency, health and school officials have requested a highly portable, short-range radio system for some time now. Schools have envisioned one that can be used to communicate with parents arriving at reunification sites after school tragedies; for emergency managers, a way to talk to people who show up at evacuation meeting sites; for health officials, a means of informing motorists who line up at points of medicine distribution (PODs) or treatment centers.
The result:  the InfOspot Portable. Developed at the request of Hennepin County (MN) Department of Emergency Management, the high flexibility system includes a quick-erect antenna stand and easy-to operate electronics in a portable shock case. Range is up to ½ mile, any frequency may be selected and an FCC license is not required per FCC Part 15.219. Broadcast messages can be sourced from a flash drive, external source, cellular gateway or live via a sound board. The system is priced at ¼ of the licensed Information Stations that have been available for this application to date. Email Information Station Specialists for more information.
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Left to right: Bill Tell of Mile High Radio Club; Bruce Barton, Riverside County Director of Emergency Management; Stacie Kelly, Emergency Services Coordinator - District 3.
High on Safety
California Amateur Radio Club:  Funding Now Likely for Emergency Radio Station Expansion
IDYLLWILD, CA: Good things can come to those who wait, and that appears to be holding true for Idyllwild, CA’s, Mile High Radio Club, which for years has been patiently planning a major expansion of their community's Information Radio System, which broadcasts on AM frequency 1610. Spokesman Bill Tell explains, “Our plan for expanding WNKI578’s broadcast coverage has become a top funding priority.”

“Winky," as it is affectionately dubbed, was first licensed at Idyllwild, California, in the 1980s to advise the public of wildfire, earthquake and storm dangers. Recent events such as the Cranston and Esperanza Fires have underscored the need for increased signal coverage, now possible through (1) high performance antennas, (2) GPS synchronization and (3) signal strength waivers. The plan is to widen the station’s coverage footprint so it can be picked up from Poppet Flats to Pinyon Pines, California, a radius increase from the current 3 miles to nearly 20 miles.

Tell adds, “On this mountain, we have the potential for complete isolation, as we experienced during major road washouts recently, severing our ability to freely commute in and out. With the possibility of wind events or power being turned off during peak fire season, communications have become very critical throughout our region for safety and possible evacuations.

"Station WNKI578 proved its worth during the Cranston Fire of 2018. It never ceased to operate, even when power was shut off to our community for several days. It continued to keep residents updated as requested by unified command.”

See a video of Riverside County's EMD Director sharing news about county support for the expansion. See also other community emergency management radio examples:
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Information Radio Stations is a generic term synonymous with Travelers Information Stations (TIS), Highway Advisory Radio Stations (HAR) / Highway Information Systems & Low Power Radio Stations (LPR). Operation of the stations is governed by FCC Part 90.242 Rules. A FCC license is required. Information Radio Stations may be fixed or portable. Subcomponents may include transmitter, antenna and ground system, digital voice player, wattmeter, cabinet with conventional or Corbin locks, lightning arrestors for RF, power and telephone lines, coaxial cable. Most stations employ black maximized antennas to discourage ice accumulation and security measures to prevent unauthorized program access. Options include synchronization, battery backup, solar power, remote programming by local, network or telco, multi-station audio distribution via RF or LAN / WAN or wireless network.