The September 11 attacks of 2001 caused the deaths of 2,996 people. Thousands more were injured, and long-term health effects have arisen as a consequence of the attacks. Many radio stations today will present a moment of silence to remember those who were lost on 9-11-01. The moments when the world changed; 8:46am American Airlines #11 crashes into the North Tower. 9:03am United #175 crashes into the South Tower. 9:45am American Airlines# 77 crashes into The Pentagon. 10:10am United# 93 crashes into a field in Pennsylvania.
Many of us experienced the shock of the news that morning, the fear in all of North America, the focus on personal and family safety, and we witnessed the unity of a nation. All of the media went into crisis coverage mode. We delivered the news, interrupted, and altered programming, worked around the clock and made personal sacrifices to inform and serve a community. Music stations simulcasted their news/talk sister stations, joined news networks for coverage or carried audio from television stations who were presenting wall-to-wall coverage. These are tactics worthy of repeating in any crisis.
Would radio be prepared to handle a crisis of the magnitude of 9-11 if it were to happen today? Fewer radio stations have local talent today than in 2001. Fewer personalities are in-house. Most have not been trained as to what to do or how to handle a crisis. The pandemic changed the need for on-air talent to be in-house, but that raises the question “if not them, then who?” Even though today’s technology can allow for a full evacuation by enabling broadcasting from a remote location, who has feet on the ground. Being able to be remote is not necessarily true for the technical and engineering team.
Educate your audience as to where they can hear your radio station and how to take advantage of the many audio platforms available to the audience. Historically, over the air stays on-air longer than digital, but simulcasting on both as long as possible is the best way to provide coverage. It is important to promote in advance the various locations where a station can be heard, and on what devices, including a battery-operated radio. How does a listener hear your station when the cell towers and the internet go down due to a loss of power? Tell them how and where to listen to you.
There is a lessened focus on community service in 2023 than there was in 2001. The recent fire in Lahaina on the island of Maui magnified the need for the use of an early warning system. It wasn’t activated there. Officials in the Lahaina fire didn't start getting regular info to radio stations or properly use radio until almost 48 hours into the crisis. They were communicating to TV and posting warnings on social media, which most residents didn’t or couldn't get. Radio was an afterthought in alerting the unsuspecting inhabitants of the community. Inform your local community leaders who to contact and how to activate radio as a part of every early warning system.
Crises are seldom telegraphed. They often catch an unsuspecting world off-guard. Earthquakes, Forest Fires, Floods, and Lightening are unannounced and can be sudden. The same with an act of war, which is what was experienced on 9-11. Weather events are the ones that give some kind of warning, but that doesn't mean they’re any less surprising when they occur. The most recent hurricane to hit Florida, Idalia, did significant damage with minimal loss of life. Mainly because the warning system was utilized, evacuation activated, and on-going coverage kept those in the hurricane’s path informed.
Do you have a news partner that you can join forces with to deepen your coverage? A semi-annual preparedness meeting with that partner will provide a sense of security and comfort among both teams in regard to knowing what to do when situations occur that warrant crisis coverage. Be sure to inform and engage part-time talent, too. Everyone on your team should know what to do and how to do it in the face of a possible disaster. During such situations the sales department may also be activated to approach those businesses who can provide comfort and convenience during a crisis or disaster.
Being prepared for the next crisis should be standard operating procedure. Every radio station should have a First Aid Kit on-hand. Multiple flashlights and extra batteries. A supply of water. At least two-days non-perishable food supply. Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation in case water pressure is lost. A wrench or pliers to turn off utilities. A manual can opener for food. A charged cell phone and a back-up charged cell phone. There should be a contact list in your studio that is “old school” on paper. If the power is out, digital is down, many of the devices we use for communication will be inactive.
Crises are unplanned. Planning for them is how we best serve our communities.
Create and organize a Crisis Team. Detail who does what and what actions are to be taken by each Crisis Team member. Be specific.
Inform local leaders who to contact at your radio station in order to activate the early warning system. Priority 1, 2 and 3 individuals so that there is a back-up plan if needed.
Enter into a partnership with a Television or News Service that can assist in expanding your news delivery and crisis coverage.
Be prepared technically for local and/or remote broadcasting. Be prepared to operate on a generator or from a location that has power. Be sure that your transmitter site can operate on back-up power.
In the case of evacuation, where will you broadcast from and how will local community leaders communicate with you.
Prepare for studio inhabitants to be on lockdown for an extended period of time. Meaning, as noted, satisfying the need for food and personal comforts.
Promote on-air where and how the radio station can be heard … well in advance of a crisis.
Hold a semi-annual Crisis Team meeting that includes local community leaders. Be prepared.