GRIMESLAND, N.C. — Personnel at the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station outside Greenville, N.C., are battening down the hatches ahead of Hurricane Florence’s expected Thursday night impact.
Despite of the threat the storm poses to eastern North Carolina, in a phone interview, Program Support Manager Rick Williford told Radio World their “goal is to maintain 24/7 broadcasts.”
During initial pleasantries, Williford admitted to feeling anxious about the storm and followed up that statement with a colorful explanation.
“All this technology and all this information about the storm, it’s kind of like being stalked by a turtle,” he said, referring to the ability to track the storm’s path but not predict it with 100% certainty.
Station Engineer Macon Dail joined the call and gave a report on his end of the preparation process.
Williford and Dail explained they began initial prep last Friday with an assessment of the storm’s potential by the station’s emergency committee.
On Monday, they began working on staff schedules (“Most places reduce manning; in this case we do the opposite,” Williford said.) and started to “batten down.”
Wednesday was spent surveying the 2700-acre property to check for potential projectiles; most of the site consists of open fields.
Thursday’s primary tasks involved readying the back-up transmitter — since “power is the key to station operation” — and fine-tuning schedules. Williford predicts that tonight’s midnight shift workers who would typically clock out around 8 a.m. may need to work 16+ hour shifts, which is why extra staff will be called in to make sure every “stays fresh.”
Technicians are also encouraged to “double their sandwich ration;” the kitchen is usually well stocked, Williford says, since the site located at “the end of the world and continue two miles past that,” which means employees can’t go out to eat for their lunch break.
Williford reminds readers that the station’s primary mission currently is supporting the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which necessitates frequencies changes throughout the day; the work at the Murrow facility is far from set-it-and-forget-it, even under the best of meteorological conditions.
However, Dail says they aren’t worried about the building itself. It was built in the 1960s, and the plant was designed to withstand 120 mph winds, including the antenna system. “We feel pretty confident,” he said.
Nonetheless, Williford remains realistic. “Every hurricane has a different signature,” which means you may prepare based on what went wrong last time but encounter entirely new challenges with the next storm.
For example, the last major storm event with rain coming at 90-degree angle blew out the switchgear because of the rain. This time they’re using “lots of Gorilla tape” to prevent that this time around.
This time, Williford said, “It looks like Greenville will not be subjected to a deluge from the sky, but there are concerns about storm surge.”
The site is located closer to Grimesland, which is even closer to the Pamlico river — a body of water that empties into the Pamlico Sound and could be vulnerable to storm surge from Hurricane Florence. But, Dail said, the site has pretty good drainage. Driving to and from home is typically the larger challenge.
Despite the uncertainty and probable extra long shifts the station plans to persevere. Williford said, “We kind of pride ourselves on pushing through all storms.”