Most radio stations use computer systems instead of people to operate unattended overnight and on weekends. But, what if there is a local emergency? What if a dangerous storm threatens to cause flooding or mudslides? What if there is a forest fire or a child has been kidnapped? How would a radio station get this information on the air? The reality is most stations are not equipped to let local emergency officials quickly broadcast urgent warnings.
These are exactly the questions that kept bothering Don Connelly, Western Carolina University’s director of electronic media and faculty adviser for WWCU Power 90.5, and Bob Scott, lieutenant executive officer with the university police who retired in January. “While we sometimes think bad things can’t happen in the mountains, they can and do,” Scott said. “We are subject to everything from ice storms to deadly flooding and mudslides.”
To solve the problem, Scott and Connelly teamed up with Tim Neese of MultiTech Consulting of Asheville to develop an emergency management communications system that allows university police at any time to access WWCU, the university’s broadcast service that is on the air 24 hours a day. The new communications system allows an officer from any remote location to interrupt programming or override the radio station’s announcer. The system supplements the federally required emergency action system, which most listeners would recognize from the long tones heard during periodic testing after an announcement that, “This is a test.” That system requires more steps to activate and transmit information than the new system at WWCU.
Western received a grant of $1,000 to pay for the new communications system from Duke Power, a company that monitors dams and water levels as part of its work with hydroelectric plants. “At the time the request came in, two hurricanes had caused flooding six months earlier and a tropical storm that brought a bit more flooding was on the way,” said Fred Alexander, district manager of the Duke Power Nantahala Area. “This is a good way to help provide timely emergency information to university members and neighbors down the Tuckaseigee River Valley.”
Connelly said every second counts during local weather emergencies and Amber Alerts. “This system saves valuable time and connects emergency management officials directly to the listener,” said Connelly. “Listeners will hear emergency information directly from the source and hear it first on WWCU.”
University police completed training to use the equipment in February. “Anytime there is an emergency, one of the responsibilities of public safety is to keep the public informed,” said Tom Johnson, director of Western’s police department. “This system gives us another tool for accomplishing that responsibility.”
Jackson and Haywood county law enforcement and emergency management agencies will be able to use the system by going through Western’s University Police department. “As the only radio station that serves both Sylva and Waynesville, WWCU has the opportunity to serve a valuable community role,” said Connelly.
For more information, contact Don Connelly at (828) 227-3851.