April 16, 2013
A song skipped over by the automation system in the middle of a music sweep is a problem, but not an emergency. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and severe thunderstorms present serious concerns for radio.
Years ago, I remember being on the air during a bad storm on a Saturday night and all the electricity going out. It was pitch black in the studio except for the little lights on the request lines. I was informing the public of the high winds and thunderstorm warnings, meanwhile not heeding my own words of caution and at least getting the flashlight from the locked production room. (No one ever could explain the wisdom of all the flashlights being in a locked room.) Just before attempting to feel my way in the dark to the production room, the red light on the hotline began to blink, it was the General Manager "Sam I'm at a party and we were listening to the station, did you know it's off the air?" I replied "Yes and if you would let me off this phone, I will try and get us back on, but first I have to feel my way to production for a flashlight."
Eventually everything came back on; Monday the GM laughingly told everyone how I pretty much flipped him off over the phone during the storm crisis. And in case you were wondering, the engineer was out of town and his designated backup never returned my phone call for help.
While telling this story to a PD friend of mine, it reminded him to discuss with his jocks what to do during a natural disaster. In fact we did a three-way conference call with a mutual acquaintance whose station experienced Katrina in New Orleans. Here's an emergency checklist for PDs and personalities for regular and non-business hours:
- Keep several flashlights with fresh batteries in a visible area inside the studio and in the kitchen area.
- Have all important emergency numbers for the police and fire department where they can be found inside the studio. Also every jock should also have these numbers as contacts on their cell phones.
- Develop a relationship with emergency organizations like the Red Cross.
- Have supplies like canned foods, extra flashlights, fresh batteries, bottled water, blankets or sleeping bags in case staff has to literally stay at the station. Put these things in an easy to reach area and make sure everyone knows where they are kept.
- Make sure all hard drives are backed up daily in case your facilities have to be evacuated.
- Stress to the personalities and station personnel to keep an extra cell phone charger at work and keep cells fully charged.
- Have a deal with a nearby hotel in case there is ever a need for station personnel to stay there during a crisis.
- For worse-case scenarios, have an escape route planned.
Having a plan of action for station personnel is one of those things you may never have to use, but just in case, smart to have; the same reason schools have fire drills. With smaller individual station staffs, clusters ensure there at least will be a few bodies to help each other during a crisis. It would also be good idea to find an organization with expertise in natural disaster emergencies to come over and talk to staff.