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Geo-Targeted Radio Emergency Alerts Are Potential Lifeline


GEO Broadcast Solutions
GEO Broadcast Solutions

The FCC is currently considering a proposed rule change to allow local radio stations to use FM boosters in Single Frequency Networks -- with technology dubbed ZoneCasting developed by GeoBroadcast Solutions -- to broadcast over-the-air geo-targeted alerts to different broadcast zones to reach the public during an emergency. As previously reported, radio is currently the only mass medium that cannot geo-target its content. The television industry gained the ability to geo-target in 2017 when the FCC adopted the Next-Gen TV standard -- also known as ATSC 3.0 -- at the urging of NAB.

According to GeoBroadcast Solutions, the ability for radio stations to add localized weather and traffic, news, advertising, and emergency alerting during parts of a broadcast hour is beneficial to listeners, small businesses, and advertisers. It would allow the radio industry to progress and remain competitive in the market.

"Once the FCC changes its rules, radio broadcasters can zone its signals to deliver vital information during an emergency, said GeoBroadcast Solutions CTO Bill Hieatt. "More importantly, it can send out area-specific notifications on everything from changes in traffic patterns to emergency supply locations for food, water, first-aid, and blankets. And, any station can target the foreign listeners within its signal by broadcasting in one or more other languages."

This past April, former U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate wrote to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in support of the proposed rule change. At the time he said, "I have witnessed first-hand that our oldest form of broadcast, radio, remains the most reliable, stable form of communicating. Radio has literally weathered all forms of disasters - be it California wildfires, where 200 cellular towers were destroyed, hurricanes like Sandy and Katrina, which overloaded most forms of communications, or coastal floods in Florida."

Fugate specifically cited that radios can be battery operated and are portable; and when electrical power is out or cell towers overcrowded the public can still have access to radio stations that provide them with critical information.

In Florida, Pat Roberts, President/CEO of the Florida Association of Broadcasters since 1988, said that he has witnessed the dependability of radio when broadcast and cellular towers have been destroyed by winds and wildfires. He recalled his experience in 2017 when Hurricane Irma's force was so strong all forms of communications on the Florida Keys was lost, including the walkie-talkies of the Sheriff's office in Monroe County. At that point, local radio station WWUS-FM opened its broadcasting to law enforcement and became the only source of communication for public safety and local population.

Bob Singer, President and Executive Director of the Oregon Association of Broadcasters, said that had radio stations had the ability to send out more zoned alerts during this year's wildfires it would have been very beneficial in mobilizing people, communicating critical information, and updating targeted details more frequently.

"I fully support radio geo-targeting, said Singer. "I know the areas around Ashland and near the state capital that were particularly devastated by wildfires could have used the extra resource in zoned radio alerts to inform the public."

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