||When Disaster Strikes, Radio Provides an All-Important Lifeline
Hurricane Sandy is Latest Example of Medium's Dedication to Its Audience
With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the Eastern seaboard on Monday, radio stations throughout the region were ready to provide the customary extra-mile level of emergency information and public service broadcasting that listeners have come to rely on in times of disaster.
"Are we ready? Of course; that's because we usually stand ready, often prepared for anything," Paul Rotella, President/CEO of the New Jersey Broadcasters Association said on Monday. "That's what local radio is all about: Being prepared, being nimble, and being informative, with real information our listeners need."
Rotella said he had been in contact with local, state and federal authorities, in addition to many of the stations in New Jersey, for the previous 48 hours.
"Without exception, all of the stations I have spoken with report that their entire staff is preparing for the storm with sleeping bags, emergency generators and special weather alerts," he continued. "It's simply amazing how dedicated people get in an emergency. This is what I love about our industry. We are resilient and we are dedicated no matter what!
"This is a perfect example of how only local radio and TV can provide the critical information our audiences need to know in times of emergency. Sure, you can get a 'big picture' overview from some media sources, but our citizens need to know much more detailed and salient information that only local broadcasters can provide," he added. "I remember during (Hurricane) Irene, our broadcasters stayed at their stations for three days straight, without commercial interruption, and without food and many of the necessities we take for granted under normal operating conditions."
The response by radio stations and staff to this week's emergency situation is the latest example of the medium's devotion to its listeners. According to a 2005 study by Arbitron, Riding Out the Storm: The Vital Role of Local Radio in Times of Crisis, "One of the main questions regarding radio and hurricane coverage has to do with radio in the context of other media. With Web sites designed to give ultra-specific radar coverage and tracking maps, and television providing Doppler radar images and reporters on the scene, is radio still vital in a natural-disaster situation?
"The answer is an overwhelming 'yes,' and the place radio occupies in a natural-disaster crisis is held by no other medium," the report stated. "Radio's portability, local information and battery power are unmatched once the storms hit and electricity goes by the wayside. Although television is the medium of choice when the storm approaches, once the storm arrives, radio still rules."
In 2010, NAB's "Radio Heard Here" initiative joined forces with the American Red Cross and radio manufacturer Eton to distribute radios in disaster-prone markets. The Red Cross also took to station airwaves across the country to remind listeners of the importance of radio during times of crisis.
Laura Howe, Vice President of Public Relations for the American Red Cross, said at the time, "Many recent disasters have shown that new media and technology have emerged as powerful ways to distribute and collect emergency information. But in most communities, radio continues to be the most reliable source for news and information when there is a disaster of any kind.
"Internet and television are often limited by the availability of power and other utilities during an emergency," she remarked. "But radio is immediately accessible, with or without power, and by people of any age or income level. Local radio personalities often serve as community bridge builders, helping people connect and assist one another, and as watchdogs to ensure that response organizations are meeting the needs of the community."
As NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith noted during his presentation at the Radio Show in September, "When I think about radio, the word 'courage' comes to mind. As you know so well, time and time again, radio broadcasters demonstrate their courage in many invaluable ways. Just several weeks ago, Hurricane Isaac struck the Gulf region, bringing powerful winds and pounding rain to communities in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. Broadcasters quickly stepped in, fulfilling their role as first informers...heeding warnings and providing non-stop coverage of the hurricane's path.
"Residents on the Gulf coast were fortunate; it could have been much worse. But seven years after Katrina, it was a fresh reminder of the lifeline role of local broadcasting."
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