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Have Crisis Managers Forgotten Radio? Redding’s Emergency Preparedness Page Mentions Radio Only in Passing re Alerts about Threats and Evacuations

The Sunday July 29, 2018 Sacramento Bee reported that the Bledsoe family, which lost a great-grandmother and two great-grandchildren in the Carr fire that’s been raging in Northern California, had no idea an evacuation had been ordered. 

Is there no organized communications effort among all responding agencies in these crisis situations directing people to tune to one designated emergency radio station? Even flip phone owners presumably have access to radio. A multi-channel communications effort to direct people to listen for fast-changing alerts and evacuation orders on ONE RADIO STATION appears to not even exist. There isn’t a station owner or manager alive who’d refuse an official request to become the go-to station in a crisis.

Regarding the above headline: The City of Redding’s Emergency Preparedness website — https://www.cityofredding.org/departments/fire-department/prevention/emergency-preparedness — mentions radio only in passing as a reliable communications channel during life-threatening emergencies. Here’s the site’s advice: “Learn about your community's warning signals: what they sound like and what you should do when your hear them.” But it has nothing like this: “Station (XYZ) is the designated emergency broadcast station in this region. Tune to (station’s frequency) to stay informed about threats to your safety.”

If electricity is cut to a siren or the site’s battery is dead, that warning signal won’t happen. It’s as if all of crisis response has fallen in love with “signals” and social media and texting and “push messages,” leaving the broadest form of communication in yesterday’s dustbin. This is bad public policy! Don’t authorities have a plan to use radio — the most reliable and accessible communications tool — in a crisis?

Another issue: The Bledsoe family’s tragedy is especially hard to understand since one of the aunties told the Bee she could see from the checkpoint that halted her effort to save her relatives that the family’s house hadn’t yet burned. She was stopped by authorities from rescuing the great-grandmother and the kids. What’s the protocol when someone tells authorities “...but they’re RIGHT THERE! I CAN SEE THE HOUSE!!” Nobody goes? Nobody in authority goes? They stand their ground but don’t otherwise respond to this kind of incoming intelligence?

Emergency planners aren’t immune from scrutiny. It’s how mistakes are avoided in the next crisis. The Sonoma County fires last fall resulted in many post-action assessments of what went right and wrong. One of the first corrections that needs to happen NOW is incorporating old-fashioned-but-reliable AM radio into the emergency communications protocol. Relying on text messages and all the high-tech channels may be trendy, but it’s costing lives. Not including radio in emergency notification borders on the irresponsible.

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