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Pilot Radio Project Targets Alerts for the Deaf

NPR Labs and FEMA are coordinating

The R&D arm of NPR is involved in a pilot project to deliver emergency alerts to deaf and hard-of-hearing people in several Gulf states.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced the cooperative project with NPR Labs. “Twenty-five NPR-affiliated public radio stations throughout Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas agreed to participate in the pilot project to transmit emergency alert messages, such as weather alerts, to 475 individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing in the stations’ listening areas to determine how effectively the messages are being sent and received,” FEMA stated.

That region was chosen because of its often-extreme weather conditions. The announcement was made by Damon Penn, assistant administrator for FEMA’s National Continuity Programs Directorate, and Mike Starling, executive director of NPR Labs. The initiative is part of a contract with the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate and FEMA’s National Continuity Programs.

The stations will receive alert messages from FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, or IPAWS. The network operations center of the Public Radio Satellite System will uplink the warnings to the stations; stations will broadcast the alerts to FM Radio Data System (RDS) receivers that alert participants with a flasher. The receivers can display the message through the receiver’s display, and users can also connect a strobe light or bed-shaker alerting device to the receiver.

Starling stated that a goal of the program is to assure that all individuals can be informed of emergencies even when electricity, the Internet and other communications channels are unavailable.

FM stations participating:

Alabama: WUAL, Tuscaloosa; WBHM, Birmingham; WLRH, Huntsville; WJAB, Huntsville

Florida: WUSF, Tampa; WLRN, Miami; WPBI, West Palm Beach; WUFT, Gainesville; WMFE, Orlando; WFSU, Tallahassee; WGCU, Fort Meyers; WJCT, Jacksonville; WQCS, Fort Pierce

Louisiana: KDAQ, Shreveport; WWNO, New Orleans; WRKF, Baton Rouge; KRVS, Lafayette

Mississippi: WMPN, Jackson

Texas: KERA, Dallas; KUHF, Houston; KETR, Commerce; KUT, Austin; KMBH, Harlingen; KEDT, Corpus Christi and KVLU, Beaumont.