CPB Funds TV Station Emergency Communications

In a recognition of the value of broadcast emergency communications, the government is funding expansion of some public broadcasting efforts in that area.

"This kind of partnership between a public broadcaster and public safety officials to serve citizens during crisis is an important use of the broadcast spectrum," said U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), in a statement. Markey is a long-time friend of Public Broadcasting and defender of its funding against all enemies, Republican and otherwise.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting Thursday announced that it was awarding a $1 million grant to five public media outlets to help them expand their emergency alert communications.

The five are WSKG New York, Maine Public Broadcasting Network, Vegas PBS, WGBH Boston and Twin Cities Public Television.

The stations will develop digital broadcasting capabilities to enhance their emergency information services in support of first responders and emergency management in times of natural or man-made disasters. Those first responders will be able to use the stations' one-to-many digital broadcasting technology to send alerts through a variety of formats including text, audio and video, to other first responders and the public.

The grantees must share the fruits of their work with other public media as a force multiplier.

The projects are taking many forms. Vegas PBS will use its grant to upgrade current infrastructure for the emergency services it already supplies the Clark County District Police Department to include the Las Vegas Police Department. The upgrade will also allow it to supply more robust feeds from helicopters traffic cams and surveillance video.

WGBH will use its money to build a statewide emergency communications system given that the current system relies on narrowband voice channels vulnerable to weather and power outages.

Minnesota Public Television will use its grant to provide translations of emergency warnings — now only in English — into various languages including Hmong, Spanish, and Somali.

Broadcasters, noncommercial and commercial, have long argued that broadcasting's robust emergency communications capabilities are among the reasons the FCC should not be in a rush to give their spectrum over to wireless companies.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.