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New PEP Station in Florida Dedicated

FEMA says it’s a model for the future

FEMA recently dedicated a new PEP station, WOKV(AM), Jacksonville, Fla.

It’s a Cox Radio station, and the agency believes the addition is significant as it works to expand and update more modern alert and communications warning equipment in its Primary Entry Point stations, which can air a national warning before, during and after an emergency.

As part of its general warning system upgrade, FEMA and the Integrated Public Alert Warning System are increasing PEP stations from 37 to 74 by the end of 2011, with the effect of covering 90 percent of the population, according to the agency. PEP stations are the primary sources for a national EAS message (like one from the president).

FEMA also is modernizing existing PEP stations with modular shelters, EAS encoders/decoders that can handle the new Common Alert Protocol as well as Internet protocol-enabled gear. Satellite communications will also be used to increase the resilience as an alternate path for disseminating alert warning, FEMA states in its advisory about the Florida event.

Agency officials told me the expansion stations are being equipped with off-line, surge-protected backup program origination, transmission and power generation equipment. “Legacy PEP stations depend upon the station transmitters which may not be as well protected against electrical hazards. The new installations add an extra layer of resiliency,” they said.

WOKV is a dual site, with both day/night operation.

PEP stations, you’ll recall from your EAS/EBS/CONELRAD history, are significant both historically and in terms of next-generation of alerts and warnings.

In front of new fuel storage and generator shelter for newly commissioned PEP station WOKV, from left: Damon Penn, FEMA assistant administrator, National Contingency Programs; Rick Benson, chief engineer Cox Jacksonville; Mohan Singh, PE, SES, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, chief, Interagency and International Services Starting in 1963, alerts and warnings in the U.S. were administered under the Emergency Broadcast System; and in 1997 the Emergency Alert System was established. PEP stations were established in the early 1990s as a backup to the Emergency Activation Network back when AT&T handled most radio and television network distribution. In 1995, President Bill Clinton eliminated the Emergency Activation Network, leaving PEP stations as the remaining distribution source for national level EAS.

In Florida, Damon Penn, FEMA assistant administrator of National Contingency Programs, said the design and construction that went into the WOKV will serve as a model for the 46 new PEP stations and the retrofit of the existing PEP stations.

In case you’re wondering, as I did, why someone from the Army Corps of Engineers (“USACE,” in government-speak) was there, here’s the back story:

The USACE provides construction management services through an inter-agency agreement. ACE chose KBR as the prime contractor, which handles site design and then contracts the actual work. The WOKV PEP site was officially a construction area until it was accepted by FEMA, which then accepted the keys from the Army Corps of Engineers, who, in turn, turned over the keys to a representative of the Cox Jacksonville cluster.

I hope no one lost the spare key along the way.