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Government Officials Advise Citizens to Tune to TV, Radio in Emergencies

Government officials from FEMA and the National Hurricane Center Thursday told reporters to spread the word that TV and radio will have the most up-to-date information on hurricane Irene, the category 3 hurricane threatening the Eastern Seaboard.

"We really want to put the emphasis on the evacuation orders or recommendations that come from the local officials," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told B&C/Multi and other reporters on a briefing call Thursday. "Local TV and radio stations are often times the ones who will be carrying that specific information." He also talked about social media as a way to connect when cell phones weren't working.

Separately, in an interview with CNN, when asked about the cell phone problems in the wake of the earthquake that hit Virginia, Fugate told CNN's Ali Velshi that "what I think people that got so enamored with their smartphones and stuff forget -- it's your local radio and TV stations. Those local broadcasters are going to be giving you the best information, real time, from those local officials out of those press conferences." That is according to a transcript circulated by the National Association of Broadcasters, which has been arguing that broadcasting's role as an emergency "first informer" is one of the reasons the FCC and Congress need to make sure that any reclamation of spectrum for wireless does not compromise that vital function.

"Our friends in the cell phone industry have predictably used this week's massive system failure as a call for more broadcast spectrum," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. The cell phone association, CTIA, has conceded there were troubles getting calls through, but says that was not due to any infrastructure failure but from congestion it has argued more spectrum would help alleviate. "As constructed now, all the spectrum on the planet won't prevent cell phone network disruptions in a crisis situation," said Wharton in a statement.

CTIA VP John Walls responded to NAB's statement. "We understand FEMA Administrator Fugate's perspective that, during emergency situations such as Tuesday's earthquake, different people will utilize different communication tools. Broadcast media and wireless services are some of the many sources that the public relies on in emergency situations," said Walls, pointing out that no cell networks or infrastructure failed . "If people experienced temporary congestion, it was due to the enormous spike in the number of users. It is similar to having an extraordinary number of cars trying to cross the 14th Street Bridge into D.C. at the same time. As CTIA's President and CEO Steve Largent explained in his blog post yesterday, this is why the U.S. wireless industry needs to get more spectrum, or lanes....We agree that public safety agencies should utilize all the tools in their alerting toolkits to ensure that important information is being received by the greatest number of people as soon as possible, including wireless services and traditional broadcasters."