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EDITORIAL COMMENT
August 2004

Radio - the saviour in an emergency!


Radio - the saviour in an emergency.


Yet again a severe storm - in this case Hurricane Charley - has demonstrated the unique advantages of radio when it comes to overwhelming natural disasters. It's a medium that is portable, unlike TV doesn't demand mains power, and almost as important is affordable.

In Florida, when other services were down or effectively unavailable to those without power supplies, the radio through portable transistors and automobile radios came into its own as a medium for giving information on where things like clean water supplies were to be had.

Florida is reported to be considering plans to give away radios for use in such events: We'd like to go further and think nationally or even internationally.


Expand the potential.


Bearing in mind how cheaply radio receivers can be produced and noting the dropping by the US military of simple radio receivers in Afghanistan, it seems to us that the cost per head of a universal issue of radios for emergency use would be well worth considering for the US and indeed many other countries.

The receivers in our view should not be dependant on power sources that could run out so we'd prefer clockwork power to batteries and they also need to be rugged and waterproof. It might also be worth considering the addition of some simple transmission capability so that a set could potentially act as a beacon for rescue teams although we have concerns here that the combination of selfishness and stupidity of some people could render this function of little value.

Such sets would not necessarily need to be particularly sophisticated if allied with plans to ensure certain frequencies would be available for emergency use - something that was part of the first US warning system - CONELRAD (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation) - that was set up during the Korean war and designated AM frequencies 640 or 1240 kHz for use for a Presidential address in the case of an attack and to supply emergency information.

We are not suggesting that nowadays emergency alerts should be limited to the primitive technology then available but do think that there is a danger in the current Federal Communications Commission planning of an EAS system that the sophisticated may be given too much priority over that which is functional and affordable.

The temptations.


In any such situation as the Federal Communications Commission's current consultation on Emergency Alert System there is inevitably a temptation for people to pile on more and more "Wouldn't it be a good idea if we could…?" requirements with the end result of producing a sophisticated end result that is far too expensive and also prone to failure.

The logic is therefore that there should in effect be a simple, cheap and reasonably effective base system for use allied with the use of more sophisticated systems.

The latter can include mobile phone devices and the Internet for which the infrastructure already exists but in the event of a dire emergency, as shown in Florida, many advance systems can be knocked out although ironically in such a scenario as Charley a satellite radio system is probably more reliable than a terrestrial one, providing the receivers are available.

Sophisticated systems, however, tend to cost quite a lot and have more potential for failure.

A cost effective back up.


In comparison, a simple robust waterproof clockwork radio cum torch that would receive a few selected AM and FM frequencies could be mass-produced for a few dollars a time and thus provided to pretty well everyone.

If the other systems remain up and running, all well and good: The clockwork radio won't be as useful as a phone, sophisticated radio receiver, TV channels, the Internet and all the other sources of information that are so often taken for granted.

It's when there is massive devastation, however, that information is often most crucial and that's just when the fancy systems get hit hardest.
Against that background, we think the argument for a cheap robust back up is worth thorough consideration and costing. Such a back up requires far less infrastructure to remain in working order and would be of use to all, not just those who can afford the sophisticated.
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What you think? Please E-mail your comments.


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