Disaster Recovery

September 1, 2011

For United States residents, the odds of dying from a natural disaster have been calculated to be about one in 3,300. While the odds of a self-inflicted death are statistically some 28 times more likely, the broader scale on which natural disasters tend to occur makes it reasonable to assume that most broadcast facilities will at some time, or another, be affected by a natural or manmade disaster. The steps taken before disaster strikes will dictate how quickly recovery will occur. Because of radio''s importance in disseminating information, the importance of maintaining a presence cannot be understated.

Photo by Wayne R. Miller

Photo by Wayne R. Miller

It is therefore prudent to create and maintain a plan for disaster recovery at your facilities, which includes maintaining a strong working relationship with your consulting engineer. As we have discussed before, every broadcast station is its own unique entity. A universal cookie-cutter approach, while a good first step, will probably not be an ideal solution in the end. As you build your plan, remember there are really three main areas of consideration.

First, it is necessary to know what potential hazards face the facility. Typically, threats can be divided into manmade and natural, or acts of God. While the initial impact of both categories to station operation may be similar, the long-term recovery may play out differently depending on the situational mechanics. Threats caused by people (anything from vandalism and equipment failure to riots and hazardous materials incidents) tend to have quicker recovery times. Threats in the natural spectrum (hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, blizzards, conflagration, etc.) are more regional and can require a greater recovery time.

Minimizing harm

There is an old maxim out there that nothing is impossible, but some things cost more. This certainly is true in the instance of reducing the impact of disasters. While you could probably mitigate away most of the potential hazards, quite frankly the lack of available resources will limit what ultimately can and should be done to prepare. For example, a multiple tower directional array could be constructed across town as an auxiliary site. The return on investment, however, would likely limit the attractiveness of such a solution for any organization other than the federal government, especially when an emergency wire antenna will result in core market coverage. Thus, operational continuity of 100 percent should never be expected, but you should strive for as close that as possible.

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The last main portion of the plan involves repair, recovery and restored operations. Under this portion of the plan, general specifics for addressing a myriad of potential problems should be presented. Special attention should be paid to the language utilized, and explanations should include photographs or illustrations. When it comes down to cleaning up the mess after the disaster, the audience for this portion of the plan must be considered. First, there will no doubt be a high degree of anxiety as a result of whatever issue has transpired. Simple language and copious illustrations will help cut through the adrenaline fog that will likely be present. Secondly, as macabre as it sounds, the possibility exists that in a disaster affecting a wide area you may not be available to help in the recovery because of injury or death. At this point, the overnight guy who you would barely trust to change a light bulb may be called upon to restore the facility to some semblance of operation through your instructions.

Photo by Wayne R. Miller

Photo by Wayne R. Miller

All persons at the facility should know of the existence of the plan, and have some knowledge of what it contains. From time to time, the plan should be reviewed, and updated or changed as necessary. Any drills that are run, or tabletop exercises at meetings, will only serve to further cement knowledge in the minds of the staff. Copies of the plan should be maintained in multiple locations so the destruction of a particular building does not wipeout the only extant version.

Maximizing the availability of resources is always key to a quick recovery. Multiple facilities in a given market can be very helpful as you by default have alternate transmission and storage locations for parts and equipment that may become necessary for restoration of operation. The cost for the establishment of an emergency studio at the transmitter site is minimal. Similarly, an auxiliary transmitter can usually be established at the studio location for a small investment. Either combination will allow for station operation, even if at low power if issues strike at the normal main locations.

Maintaining an inventory of transmission parts for disasters is strongly recommended. For FM broadcasters, one or two bays of antenna, some coax, and a portable transmitter will allow operation from nearly anywhere you can find a support structure. On the AM side of things, keep wire to make an emergency antenna, coax and the components to fabricate a simple ATU in kit form. Quite frankly, the reduction in size of a number of crucial items has made it possible for an emergency radio station to fit in the bed of a pickup truck.

As the recovery and restoration proceeds, it is possible that some of the best thought out scenarios will become unworkable. Changes may need to be made on the fly. If there is a good framework in place, however, the impact of these changes will still be less than having no plan in place, which in itself is a disaster.

Ruck is a senior engineer with D.L. Markley and Associates, Peoria, IL.

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