Radio is ubiquitous in times of disaster, able to communicate vital information to the victims and support to emergency services.
To mark World Radio Day 2016, David Wood, Consultant, Technology and Innovation, at EBU, discusses why radio is vital in times of emergency and disaster.
On 29 August 2005, Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans and destroyed nearly everything in its path – affecting power stations, internet services, and mobile phone towers. But one service held up; there was one way people could be informed about what was happening: radio broadcasting.
Communication is of vital importance in times of emergency and disaster, helping victims to find shelter, medical assistance and loved ones. However, lines of communication are often hit the hardest during a natural disaster.
Following a disaster, authorities need to use every single means they can to tell the public what’s happening and what they should do – television, e-mail, social media, amateur radio, satellite. Every service can help, but the service that is least likely to fail to get through is often radio broadcasting, which is then often used to keep the victims of a disaster informed and up to date about news, and to coordinate relief efforts where necessary.
In times of emergency and disaster, mobile phone networks and Internet access are desperately needed by the emergency services themselves, who require priority access to coordinate relief efforts. However, these communication networks are often overstretched, overloaded and congested which means that the public may not be able to use them..
Moreover, disasters often wipe out power circuits which mean that homes experience an electricity blackout. With no television and no satellite receiver, people are unable to access information and news alerts.
But radio is everywhere: in the home or car. It is easy to use, cost efficient and reliable, able to broadcast and to be received even when local electricity fails, often working on battery. Moreover, radio stations have their own large antennae, independent of other communications towers. Radio never overloads regardless of how many people tune in. It provides the maximum reach at the fastest possible speed.
Consequently, radio is capable of providing valuable support to other, more sophisticated services – even if they are available as well – and should be a cornerstone of emergency services during a disaster.
So when we talk about radio in times of emergency and disaster, there is one word that describes its role. That word is “indispensible”.
This blog is based on a podcast by David Wood on the role of radio in emergencies and disasters. You can listen to the podcast here.
A note from ITU: ITU‑R Report, ‘Broadcasting for public warning, disaster mitigation and relief’, can be found here.
David Wood is EBU Consultant, Technology and Innovation, at the EBU Headquarters in Geneva Switzerland. David is a former Chair of the World Broadcasting Union’s Technical Committee, and he has represented the world broadcasting unions and EBU in international forums. He currently Chairs ITU-R Working Party 6C, and several groups of the DVB Project.