The Federal Emergency Management Agency expects to reveal new studio capabilities at WLW(AM) in Cincinnati on Wednesday during a first of its kind broadcast from a shelter at the transmitter site of the National Public Warning System (NWPS) Primary Entry Point (PEP) radio station.
The iHeartMedia radio station is one of 77 PEP radio stations across the country and the second to have added modernized emergency studio facilities. Enhanced studio capabilities were completed at WJR(AM) in Detroit earlier this year, according to Manny Centeno, FEMA’s NPWS program manager. The upgrades include increased sheltering capabilities, expanded broadcast capacity, and sustainable power generation for all types of hazardous events.
PEP stations are designed and hardened to withstand various natural disasters and man-made events to ensure continuity of operations. FEMA began an effort to upgrade PEP facilities in 2015 after Congress passed the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Modernization Act.
“This is really a critical development. For many years FEMA and the FCC has supported radio broadcast and been adding resiliency to the system. Things like generators, fuel to last for 60 days and other protections. Now we are expanding the survivability of these stations to include an all hazards platform, which means chemical, biological, radiological air protection and protection from electromagnetic pulse,” Centeno says.
FEMA is including studios within standalone modules to insure that PEP radio stations are capable of broadcasting during and after emergencies when other communication sources may be down, Centeno says.
“We always say that radio is the backbone of emergency information to the public. It’s a tested and proven method to reach the masses during disasters. Our intent is to protect radio so it can continue to serve the public as well as it has in the past,” Centeno adds.
In all, FEMA is modernizing 33 of the NWPS PEP stations to include better studio capabilities with human survivability capabilities, he says. The studio shelters are all the same size and design. The all metal studio shelters – think of it as a Coke can that seals completely, Centeno says — have filtered air systems to insure safety during a possible airborne chemical disaster.
“The modules are uniform size (8 feet x 20 feet) and transportable. We can easily move them around the country by train, plane, flatbed and boat,” he said. “The studio modules contain a studio with audio mixing capabilities and processing, transmitter and associated equipment for monitoring.”
The studio shelter even includes a rest area for station operators and an “incinerator toilet” along with food and water for several weeks, according to Centeno. Satellite and fiber optic communications systems are employed as well.
A ribbon cutting, tour and on-air demonstration of the new WLW studio shelter is planned for 11:00 a.m. EDT time on Wednesday. The station’s transmitter site is located at 710 Tylersville Road in Mason, Ohio. WLW is a Class A clear-channel station operating with 50,000 watts. “The exercise on Wednesday will be the first time we have operated the shelter system live. We will be doing demonstrations and some tests to simulate an emergency broadcast,” Centeno says.
Centeno also commends iHeartMedia and Cumulus, owner of WJR in Detroit, for their efforts in completing the modernization projects and insuring that their stations are in a position to respond promptly during emergencies.