The Wisconsin Broadcasters Association has a program that should be of interest to broadcast engineers in regions regularly under threat of natural disasters such as tornadoes, extreme thunderstorms, hurricanes, floods, fires or earthquakes, or any kind of emergency situation at or near studios or a transmitter site. Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Vice President Linda Baun and President Michelle Vetterkind provide some answers about the Wisconsin Broadcaster Emergency Personnel ID Card program.
TechBytes: How did this program come about?
Wisconsin Broadcasters Association: In the post-Katrina days, one of the greatest challenges for broadcast engineers was restricted travel denying them access to their broadcast transmitters. Gulf Coast broadcasters have recommended to all states to pursue a state-issued broadcaster ID card to avert this happening to others. Through first-person testimonials heard at an annual EAS Summit in Washington, attended by WBA President Michelle Vetterkind and Wisconsin EAS Chairman Gary Timm, the WBA was convinced that this is a worthwhile pursuit. After a lengthy development process with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, an agreement was signed in 2007 to issue Wisconsin Broadcaster Emergency Personnel ID cards. The DOJ is the lead for training for all law enforcement agencies, to ensure that the ID cards will be recognized by all officers in the state. In the event there is a question in the field, a DOJ phone number is listed on the card for any officer to call for clarification.
ID cards grew out of the need to keep broadcast transmitters on the air in times of disaster. These cards are issued to radio and television station transmitter engineers, to aid them in crossing police lines in times of disaster to keep the transmitter and Wisconsin stations, on the air. These ID cards can also be used by the engineers reporting to the local Emergency Operation Center (EOC) during times of disaster, as requested by local officials.
TechBytes: How does one get a card?
WBA: To apply for a card, stations complete the Individual Station Agreement Form/ID request which is located under Emergency Planning on our website, www.wi-broadcasters.org. The station manager must sign the Agreement/Request Form and return to the WBA for verification. A JPEG picture for each ID is emailed to the WBA and matched up with the application. The approved application along with the JPEG is sent to the DOJ, which then issues the card.
What makes this program work is the relationship between the WBA and the Department of Justice. It is a process built on trust and the greater good for the citizens of Wisconsin.
TechBytes: Are there any limitations?
WBA: To date we have issued 214 cards and have 185 participating stations. Once a card is issued, it remains valid for one year. The general manager must request a card for an employee and verify continued employment at the card renewal date. Stations must return any ID card issued upon termination of employment. There is no limit to how many cards can be issued to a station, however, each applicant must be verified as essential personnel.
These cards are not to be used by newsgathering crews or personnel. Such use would constitute a misuse of this program and would jeopardize the program for all stations in the state.
TechBytes: Have the cards been used?
WBA: We do have a report from Milwaukee that during a reported a copper theft, the police arrived and seeing the engineer inspecting the area, drew a conclusion that maybe he had something to do with the theft. The engineer asked to pull out his Wisconsin Broadcaster Emergency Personnel ID card. The police called the DOJ number and the engineer was relieved that this program worked the way planned.
TechBytes: Have other states picked up the program or asked about it?
WBA: We’ve had several inquiries on how we run our program. Many states have since adopted First Informer legislation. Ours is not legislation. However, it’s a terrific partnership with our Department of Justice.