Saturday, August 18, 2007
FCC: Four Hours After the Next Disaster
Four Hours After the Next Disaster
Austin Airwaves at the National Federation of Community
At NFCBinNOLA in April, there were a couple of workshops dealing with disaster preparedness and contingency plans for community radio stations threatened with or forced off the air by natural or other disasters. Both workshops were excellent and provided a range of useful information and contacts.
In addition to the two workshops, the NFCB wisely booked Mr. Leon Jackler to speak in his capacity as Director of Public Safety, Outreach & Coordination for the new Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau of the FCC. He spoke at the "FCC and Disaster Preparedness" workshop to about 20 folks on April 12th.
Being the only suit and tie in the room full of CR activists, suffering from a cold, and reading from prepared text, Mr. Jackler, might have felt a little uncomfortable. A couple of us, including the NFCB's marvelous Carolyn Caton and myself made a bit of an effort to make him feel welcome.
Among his very first words were, "I'm not with the enforcement division!" This drew a few chuckles, but only a few.
Mr. Jeckler spoke on a range of issues regarding radio/communications pre-, post- and during disasters. Not all the information was specific to NCE stations, but gave a good overview of the Commission's perspective and plans, post-9/11.
When is came time for questions, I asked Mr. Jeckler the following...
"Welcome back to your alma mater New Orleans. Please take one of the reality tours to see the devastation first hand."
"During the height of the Katrina disaster here on the Gulf Coast, when some federal agencies seemed to be creating as many problems as solving [waving my FEMA ballcap...] a number of unlicensed stations went on the air, providing urgent, even life-saving, information. Because of the extent of the disaster, the Commission's Enforcement Division did not, or could not, enforce the taking down of these unlicensed stations. However, around the first of the year, the Enforcement Division did in fact take down a couple of stations here in New Orleans, including Radio Uprising and Radio Harlequin, even though these stations were working to 'stay on the air anyway they could,' and were providing 'incredibly important,' 'key messages to the general public.'" [repeating his own comments to the group.]
"My question sir. As we prepare for the next disaster, has there been any discussion or consideration at the Commission for having, say, a higher level of tolerance for unlicensed stations that are providing emergency information during a disaster, especially when many or most of the licensed stations have been knocked off the air?"
Mr. Jeckler responded, "The Commission does not and will not have varying levels of tolerance for unlicensed stations, and we will continue to take them off the air as we discover them. What I would suggest as the best path to follow is what your group, Austin Airwaves, did for the evacuees in the Houston AstroDome. Petition the FCC for Special Temporary Authorization and we will make every effort to respond in four hours time. The Commission responded to hundreds of such requests during the disaster, but I believe yours was the only one in the country for a entirely new radio station."
"We certainly recognize the value of radio in a disaster," he concluded.
"I need to remind you sir, that the AstroDome station was kept off the air by local Harris County officials..."
[Another dramatic pause, some grumbling in the room...]
Looking a little flustered, Mr. Jackler responded, "I did hear about that. Nevertheless,
your group followed what the Commission believes to be the best way of dealing with a situation following a major event."
Mr. Leon J. Jackler, Esq.
Director of Public Safety,
Outreach & Coordination
Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554
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