Posted on 21 March 2015.
Bainbridge Island City Manager Doug Schulze recently received FCC approval for a 10-year lease to operate an informational community radio station, at no cost, on two AM frequencies, 600kHz and 1700 kHz. Why two? Currently the City, working with Sustainable Bainbridge, is conducting testing to determine which spot on the dial (or digital display) will send the strongest signal.
A religious broadcaster at 680 AM with a powerful antennae on Madison Avenue near the Grange sends out such a strong signal that it is proving to be a challenge to find a location on the Island where it does not interfere with city transmission. Sustainable Bainbridge member Barry Peters said he is literally climbing around the golf courses and holding up testing equipment to find areas of least interference. With that data, the City will choose the better frequency.
Emergency and Nonemergency Communications
The radio station is part of an ongoing program to improve the communications infrastructure on the Island, something to assist in emergencies and nonemergencies alike.
According to Schulze, “this radio station would be used as an additional tool to inform area citizens and motorists of what to do during AMBER Alerts, school incidents, bridge closures, earthquakes, and other types of emergencies. Bainbridge Island residents will be able to receive up-to-the-minute reports and instructions when disaster strikes. During nonemergency times, the station could be used to inform people of street repairs, traffic hazards, community events, travel advisories, city history, and even visitor information.”
Peters explained that Bainbridge Community Broadcasting (BCB), part of Sustainable Bainbridge, has been working on the idea for the last 18 months. “Currently there is no good solution for informing our community of an emergency. Home Internet will probably be down because it depends on electricity. Cell phones will die without power. Evidence shows that people panic in emergency situations and start calling family and friends, overloading the system and crashing cell tower service,” said Peters.
Currently there is an antennae at Hilltop with a wireless link, powered by large generators and a replenishing propane supply. When the Poulsbo-based Cencom hub recieves a 911 call for Bainbridge Island, its operators send a transmission to that antennae, which then bounces to the Bainbridge police and fire departments. HAM radio operators also rely on that antennae. Operators of the new radio station theoretically would utilize the antennae as a reliable information source.
Peters suggested that the fire station on Phelps Road would be a possible location for radio transmission. He said the City is also talking with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) about the possibly of have a second radio transmitter at the ferry terminal. “It would broadcast out to Winslow and to the ferries,” he said.
Peters continued, “If there is an incident at a school with a gun, a disease outbreak, or even a temporary street or bridge closure, this 24/7 service will get the word out. Sign boards could help alert travelers along the roadway to tune into the station for information.”
During nonemergencies, the majority of the time, BCB would provide looping tapes highlighting local resources and events, with information aimed at both visitors and locals.
As for how the station would be operated during emergencies, Peters said Public Information Officers (PIOs) would likely be designated for live broadcasting. Those specifics remain to be determined and approved by the City Council.
Peters said, “The City asked the Fire Department to handle emergency reponse issues during the recession. [The City] has the legal duty to be the emergency manager, and it may well be now that it is in better financial standing that will change. This is a perfect opportunity for the different agencies, including the schools, to confer and determine the best protocol going forward.”
Peters said AM was selected instead of FM because its frequencies broadcast farther. “AM is more forgiving. The frequency moves over land and water, follows shoreline, and tends to be picked up even in hilly terrain. The AM license also allows for more than one location for transmitters.”
Schulze said the City hopes to have the station fully operational sometime in the late summer or fall.
Bainbridge Community Broadcasting and Sustainable Bainbridge welcome volunteers for their emergency response program. Contact them at email@example.com.
P.S. For emergency use, you an get an inexpensive self-cranking radio that does not rely on electricity or batteries.
Photos courtesy of Michael, Joe Haupt, and James Case.