Wednesday, May 27, 2009

All This is Well and Good…But

The city has established a wonderful way to get the word out to citizens by implementing the phone and email Connect-CTY system. “Connect-CTY can send thousands of messages in a matter of minutes; messages that warn of weather related hazards, shelter in place notices, or any other event that would affect the health and safety of Baytown’s citizens”.

All this is well and good and I subscribe to it… however, this is only as good as our ability to receive it, especially after the disaster has wiped out the phone lines, Internet availability and cell phone towers. To me, that is just as or more important than advance warning.

After hurricane Ike, many of us good Baytonians didn't have cell phone coverage or landline phones for days. Our chief means of information was AM radio and that came out of Houston and that was very sporadic and frustrating. Is it just me, or is Baytown often slighted as an unwanted step-child by Houston?

Time and time again, I heard local folks say they wish they could hear just Baytown stuff. When I did hear from the city management, it was welcomed and I knew they were out there, hip deep trying to solve our problems, but I needed to hear more – a lot more. Rumors were flying and since we were told repeatedly to “shelter in place”, we felt like mushrooms (kept in the dark and fed, well, we silently and obediently waited).

The city operates a website located here: http://www.oembaytown.org/prepared.asp

On the Be Prepared page it tells us in five places to make sure we have a radio, a battery operated radio, listen to the radio, keep tuned to the radio or TV (after the hurricane) and again listen to the radio or TV. Is there a radio channel that goes along with this advice?

Moving over to the Greater Baytown Area Local Emergency Planning Committee website, I began shuffling through the pages to find out what I could find for advice on usage of my AM radio information gizmo. http://www.baytownlepc.org/

Under Tools and Emergency Supplies, I found “battery operated radio” and the words at the bottom of the page: “listen to AM 740 or AM 1610”. Reading more on the LEPC website, I found this nugget: “During non-emergency periods, these radio stations air community and school district news, and re-broadcast reports from the National Weather Service. During a chemical release, these stations will continuously repeat instructions about how to Shelter In Place and provide more information as it's available. Because these low-power AM stations operate at only 10 watts, you may need a more powerful radio or outside antenna to hear these broadcasts”.

Okay, folks, here is the solution: what this city needs is an old fashion Radio Truck like they used in the 60's for civil defense. I've emailed the Mayor and City Manager about it, but I don't think it has been given a whole lot of serious consideration. The truck could tie into the emergency horn system and broadcast instructions, pod locations, water advisories, gas station availability, etc. I think a potential mistake in futuristic planning for disasters is making it all complicated and expensive.

I can't see any reason to follow some answer-all disaster complicated paradigm, just because other cities are doing it, when a simple radio truck could be a major line of communication and an easy solution. Does everything have to be complicated these days? Does the solution have to be super high tech? I say no. Do most folks here have an AM radio? I say yes.

I see it as a must have communication link and HAM operators, civic volunteers, and emergency response trained people...whatever, could staff it as their own situation improved. The Mayor, city council and city management could set up a portable tent/building beside it and direct this town personally during any emergency instead of attempting to get broadcast time on KTRH. It is a simple solution folks, so let’s get cracking and make it happen.

The location of the truck could be broadcasted and if volunteer groups wanted to help someone, they could get the message to the truck for broadcast. We Texans love to help needy people, but we have to know where the need is. Warm food, chainsaws, tarps to cover roofs, water, and gas.

I believe this is the answer to the point that I am going to start lobbying for it to be implemented. I might even become a nuisance for the benefit of my fellow confused storm survivors. If there is one thing I learned from Ike, it was how frustrating it was trying to find out what I needed to do in BAYTOWN and I don’t think any of us want to be left in the info-dark the next time and there will be a next time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bert,

I appreciate your input and am grateful for any new idea. The intent in promoting Connect-CTY was not to replace efforts to communicate, but to get as broad a brush as we can to get the Baytown word out. Expanding this avenue does not diminish other efforts but should enhance them.

We recognized after Hurricane IKE that by Baytown being a small fish in the Houston pond we had challenges contacting our citizens with up to date information.

I will tell you that while your cell phone may not have worked, most did so Connect CTY would have been able to contact a significant part of our population. We DID have HAM radio operators in the EOC broadcasting messages and staying in contact. We had updates on our website for those who evacuated and had access to the internet. The Mayor did interview after interview (several dozen) during the days leading up to the storm and the days following and they all got broadcast (many live) but if you aren’t listening at that moment it doesn’t matter. We did 10,000 flyers a day in Spanish and English and distributed them to City facilities and to the paper trying to get information out.

While “just get a radio truck” sounds simple, we cannot operate any transmitter without a federal license. We are licensed on 1610 AM and we are pursing an upgrade to digital AM. Bob Leiper tried to get a low-power FM license for 3 years, including a personal trip to the FCC in DC. Due to commercial radio demand in our area there are no frequencies available. Bidding on a commercial frequency is not feasible as they go for 10’s of millions of dollars.

It is critical that folks like you stay engaged and help us get better…if you can think of something that will help I will always encourage you to share it with us. I am only trying to share with you the facts about our efforts to communicate and our quest to get even better.

Respectfully,

Garry Brumback ICMA-CM

City Manager

Baytown, Texas

(281) 420-6500

www.baytown.org

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