City Officials Develop Emergency Alert System

By Maurice Pinzon
Yesterday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced the implementation of an emergency broadcast system, the Cityís first.

Perhaps with memories of the haphazard communications of City officials during the attack on the World Trade Center, or incidents such the 2003 summer blackout and the shooting of Council member James E. Davis in City Hall, Mayor Bloomberg asked his communications staff to figure out a way for the mayor to “get a message out,” during a crisis.

In an emergency, amidst “chaos, when everyone is yelling and screaming and the sirens are going off, establishing what is really going on is very difficult,”  said Mayor Bloomberg yesterday. But precisely because of these difficulties the mayor suggested, “getting clear, accurate, and timely information is really central to any successful management of an emergency.”

Part of the Cityís new emergency alert system is modeled after the federal governmentís warning system, regularly tested on television and radio. However, the system has never been used, not even on September 11, 2001. In addition, the president of the United States has sole authority to require broadcasters to transmit emergency messages.

New York City’s communications system, officially called the Emergency Alert System (EAS), consists of a communications protocol that would allow the mayor, “using special equipment,” to transmit an emergency message to the four largest New York City radio stations, WABC-AM, WINS-AM, WCBS-AM and WFAN-AM. These radio stations have voluntarily agreed to transmit the mayor’s emergency messages, should the need arise. All broadcasters are already required to monitor these radio stations for emergency transmissions.

The new program also includes six emergency broadcast locations in New York City. Mayor Bloomberg said that from any of these locations, City officials could “produce and instantly disseminate live radio and television feeds to all the city’s electronic news media.” This would be important, he said, “when we can’t get to the media or the media can’t get to us.” The emergency studios would allow City officials to give more detailed news conferences to supplement the shorter emergency messages transmitted to the four major radio stations.

The City spent $1 million to setup the new initiative and the program will have an annual operating budget of $100,000.

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