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The author is CEO of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB commentaries are featured regularly at Radio World.
Twenty-five years ago, when I took on running a small rural station in Colorado the conversation about how our station might respond in an emergency was never taken up. There were so many other things to tend to and very little urgency to move the topic of local media’s role in emergencies to the front burner. All of that has changed.
Over the past five years, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters has been traveling across the country and working with small cohorts of member stations, supporting their efforts to develop a new strategic framework for how they serve their communities and navigate so much rapid change in the industry and in society.
Our Community Counts Initiative (CCI) has provided an opportunity for us to gain firsthand knowledge of the issues facing the smallest market stations serving the most marginalized populations in the country.
One thing we have learned for sure: dramatic climate events have become more common and the need for local media to respond proactively has become more urgent. Public Safety means more now than an EAS testing schedule being operationalized. It means life and death. It means station employees and their families experiencing evacuations and displacement. It means local and state authorities needing local media partners. It means months and sometimes years of rebuilding long after the network news crews have come and gone.
This year, NFCB launched a Public Safety Tool Kit and Hub for the benefit of our members. We formed a content advisory team made up of leaders and engineers who have been grappling with extreme climate events and their after effects. We aggregated and curated templates, guides, training materials, data and solid advice.
Thus far, we have held an online workshop focused on technical challenges, acute response and resiliency. We explored in depth the components of creating site resiliency, considerations for small stations, large stations and options for renewable energy solutions for backup power. A September workshop will focus on programming in an emergency with an emphasis on training, engaging and mobilizing the staff and volunteers. The average community radio station sees literally dozens of volunteers through its doors in any given month. They are a huge resource, and also a huge challenge, when the high-risk environment of managing public safety scenarios kicks in.
NFCB’s 45th Community Media Conference will take place in Denver, Colorado, June 28–30. An all-day pre conference intensive on public safety is on the agenda and it was the first one to fill up with registrants. Clearly this topic, and helpful resources connected to it, are on the minds of local public media organizations. As scary as these scenarios can be, they are also showing stations new ways they can show up in their communities and new strategies for laying the groundwork in advance for even more meaningful public service when the times require it.