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Community Broadcaster: Under the Gun

Shooting at a station should push for security talk

The author is membership program director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB commentaries are featured regularly at

The recent overnight shooting at its studios stunned community radio station WORT(FM) in Madison, Wis. The details are sketchy — a masked individual allegedly entered the facility around 3 a.m. and opened fire, wounding a volunteer. The injury is not life threatening. The assailant remains at large.

The police investigation into the incident continues, so it is almost impossible to determine a reason for what happened. Regardless, a shooting at a radio station is a terrifying idea. What can other community radio stations take away from what has transpired at WORT?

[Read: Community Broadcaster: Radio Stays Strong]

Most importantly, I believe we should not jump to conclusions about why this went down. Among a few quarters, it might be tempting to suggest the episode was motivated by anger. One need only read the comment sections about this story to witness insinuations of physical attacks aimed at liberal establishments, President Trump’s battle with CNN or myriad flashpoints. Given the rancor in the nation, this selective targeting theory seems attractive in some contexts. However, the proposition may also be hard to swallow in a heavily liberal town like Madison. What’s more, the shooting occurred during a late-night music program.

Local media has since quoted police, clarifying that “detectives are becoming confident that this incident is not a random act of violence committed against media. Indications are this is a targeted act against specific person(s). We understand and appreciate the interest in this case beyond the local level but do not believe it has any relation to the current national dialogue on media.”

The fact is, until law enforcement is done with its probe, we will not have much evidence to speculate further.

What might you do instead of worrying about an unknown assailant’s attack? Stations should spend some time working on their emergency preparedness plans and their security protocols.

As I have written often in Radio World, talking sometimes with stations about their emergency preparedness plans can elicit glazed over looks. No one thinks an emergency will happen at his or her facility, or else they just assume an emergency means a catastrophic natural disaster in the vein of the movie “Twister” or something similar.

The truth is that community radio, and all media, witness all sorts of emergencies. Radio is part of the Emergency Alert System infrastructure for exactly this reason. We are expected to convey critical information and be there when misfortune strikes. And, yes, the emergency can be a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, flood or natural calamity. However, people engaged in a range of lethal activities as well are affecting more and more cities of all sizes. From explicit terrorism to active shooters, these matters are emergencies too, and require your station to consider your procedures if these occurrences happen near you.

A good emergency preparedness effort has a response plan establishing chain of command, a contact list for staff and volunteers and clear information on how your station will respond to different kinds of emergencies. A plan should also define how the facility is to be maintained.

However, just thinking ahead may prevent some issues. For most community radio stations, a basic security protocol alone would help a lot.

Thinking about your station’s studio and its integrity can be very uncomfortable. No one wants to worry that one’s facility could be adversely affected by factors out of your organization’s control. Yet security protocols are as much about training community radio volunteers on the basics of situational awareness and taking precautions.

For some community outlets, the internal culture can be comfortable, even complacent, on the subject of danger. People prop open doors at night, leave the door wide to anyone, or have no security measures at all. Reminding your volunteers to be disciplined about basic safety measures such as locking doors has to be a part of the conversation.

During my time as a program director, I can tell you that crime and harm can happen even if you are at a nice community station that serves people. I had one volunteer robbed a gunpoint, car break-ins, unstable individuals attempting to enter the station armed, and conflicts that necessitated intervention. Most of these problems vanished as we taught people to be more conscious of safety, for themselves and the station. Remedying the micro-emergencies of building access and not closing doors gave us time to focus on the much more scary emergencies we all have been forced to consider.

For its part, WORT is looking at implementing a range of new security measures. As troubling as this incident is, perhaps it may encourage more community radio stations to have similar discussions.

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