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Sessions Focus on Crisis Planning

To survive and recover from emergencies, plan, plan and plan some more

Roswell Clark provided this graphic from a study by the risk management company Munich Re, demonstrating an increase in reported natural catastrophes in North America.
Every company has established routines for conducting business efficiently. The model includes equipment, personnel and procedures. Routines can be disrupted by occurrences manmade and natural, unintentional and intentional, predictable and unpredictable.

Preparation for such events can minimize or prevent downtime. Most companies have several departments with supervisory personnel experienced in anticipating the types of disruptions and how to deal with them, should they arise. A comprehensive emergency plan is a key element in recovering from a catastrophic event. In many cases, experience is the best teacher.

The public relies on broadcasters to keep them informed during times of crisis. The Emergency Alert System may be used by officials to warn the public of imminent danger and how to best protect themselves.

Broadcasters must have a plan in place to ensure that their ability to serve the public is not impeded by disruptive events.

Dealing with the unexpected will be the theme of two Wednesday technology sessions at the Radio Show in Orlando.

Planning for the unexpected is not an oxymoron, but an essential. In business, one establishes a plan for normal operations and anticipates what can disrupt the norm and what steps can be taken to respond accordingly. Disruptions for radio can take many forms, such as storms, utility failures, personnel issues, STL loss, fire, accident, sabotage and flood.

The session, “Essential Planning for the Unexpected,” will feature Roswell Clark, director of technical operations, Cox Media Group in Tampa/Orlando Radio, and Howard Price, director of business continuity and crisis management for ABC News. The moderator for both sessions is Bill Hendrich, vice president and marketing manager for Cox Radio in Jacksonville, Fla.

In addition to his duties at ABC, Price is founder of, a free resource for business continuity and crisis management guidance to broadcasters. He offers these suggestions in planning:

• Assume you will be on your own for 72 hours.
• Make a plan.
• Keep it simple.
• Communicate it well.
• Exercise it semi-annually.
• Build key public and private relationships.
• Ensure adequate backup power and communications are available at key sites.
• Maintain an accurate emergency contact list that includes all station employees, critical vendors and service providers.

Roswell Clark emphasizes the principles of business continuity planning: Prevention, Preparedness, Response, Prevention. “Response and recovery considerations need to involve all departments.”

Here are further ideas based on comments from Price and Clark, and the author’s own experience:

Maintain a relationship with public works department(s) that may be engaged to clear access to studio and/or transmitter sites, and with other relevant local officials as a source for vital information.

Another source of information is the local amateur radio operator community. Establish a relationship with local clubs.

If your community participates in the Corporate Emergency Access System (CEAS), make sure you get emergency site access cards for your key personnel, should your building be cordoned off.

If possible, establish and maintain a secondary site from which to operate should the main become unusable or inaccessible.

Although it should be an integral part of daily operations, ensure your data is backed up and accessible from an alternate site.

Private relationships should include the utility provider(s) for your studio and transmitter sites. These should be on a priority list for restoration. Without power a broadcaster cannot render crucial information to the public and participate in the Emergency Alert System.

The fuel provider for your generator(s) and station vehicles should likewise be on a priority list.

An important practice during an emergency or catastrophic event is recordkeeping. Maintain all receipts, invoices and restoration quotations for insurance and record keeping purposes.

We should always be prepared for the unexpected. Think through all eventualities you can imagine: a vehicle or aircraft hitting a tower; vegetation growth or new construction suddenly blocking an STL path; sinkhole, fire or explosion necessitating the evacuation of a studio facility; utility failure. How would your organization respond to each?

Price sums it up well: “Business continuity and crisis management are not the same. Crisis management involves the immediate response to an instant untoward event or confluence of events. Business continuity is the process of assuring your operational resilience during and after an untoward event.

“Both are necessarily dynamic — part of an iterative process that never stops. It’s a big responsibility and a lot of work; so set up an internal, interdepartmental committee to share the pain, and to assure you’ve accounted for all of your operational needs.”

After planning and after the crisis comes recovery.

Keith Smeal, who will participate in the session “Recovering From the Unexpected,” is director of technical operations at Greater Media in New Jersey. He too emphasizes the range of possible nasty events.

“The unexpected … there are a wide range of things that can fall into that category. Natural disasters: forest fires, floods, hurricanes, tornados. Manmade disasters: fire, natural gas explosions, tanker cars going off the tracks and releasing chemicals and civil unrest.

“Some of the unexpected we have a glimpse of: An oncoming hurricane will get us into a preparatory mode, and the recovery starts even before the event takes place. Then there are the truly unexpected events: fire, lightning and the like.”

Smeal relates experiences at WCTC, an AM station in New Brunswick, N.J. during two notable weather events, Irene and Sandy.

“These two storms came from different directions. Both flooded the WCTC transmitter site. Irene dumped so much rain into the watershed that the Raritan River flooded, putting 18 inches of water into the WCTC transmitter building. Having been flooded in 1999 and nearly flooded in 2007, there were reference points on USGS and NOAA website river gauges so we were able to track the rising river.

“Sandy was different. I was keeping an eye on the river gauge and the site was well below flood stage; but the sensors in the building sensors were indicating flooding. Being tidal, the river rose due to the storm surge, but this never reached the upstream river gauge.”

Sandy put 27 inches of water in the WCTC transmitter room, partially submerging the generator. The station is fortunate to have an auxiliary site at the WMGQ tower and remained on the air from that location. Since the water did not rise into the air intake, the generator was dried out and functioned well. The propane tank nearly floated away during Irene. It was bolted down and remained in place during Sandy.

Smeal says consider the STAR approach: Stop, Think/Assess, React — have an existing disaster plan, then implement it.

Also participating in the recovery session will be Andy Laird, vice president and chief technology officer, Journal Broadcast Group.