NPR Labs to Test Emergency Alerts for Deaf and Hard of Hearing

February 26, 2013


Washington, DC - Feb 22, 2013 - NPR Labs has been awarded a contract from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to demonstrate the delivery of emergency alerts to people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing in the Gulf Coast states through local public radio stations and the Public Radio Satellite System (PRSS). This is the first effort to deliver real-time accessibility-targeted emergency messages, such as weather alerts, via radio broadcast texts.

This pilot system is intended to demonstrate that all individuals, including those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, can rely on battery-powered radios to stay informed in emergencies when electricity, Internet and other communications channels are unavailable.

NPR Labs, the technology research and development group of NPR, will work with the DHS and FEMA to identify 25 public radio stations in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to participate in the pilot. The distribution network of the Public Radio Satellite System will be used to test the effectiveness of the message delivery system. The Gulf region was chosen because it is frequently subjected to extreme and sudden weather conditions. Once proven, the system could be rolled out nationwide on the public radio stations served by the PRSS, which reach 95 percent of the U.S. population.

"As we work to promote disaster preparedness and awareness, it is important we remember to equip every member of our communities," Congressman Steven Palazzo (R-MS) stated. "This valuable partnership with Mississippi's local public radio stations promises to expand the reach of our disaster alert systems, and I can think of no better place to conduct this trial than the Gulf Coast."

"NPR Labs has developed expertise in making radio broadcasts available and accessible to everyone," said NPR Labs Vice President and Executive Director Mike Starling. "We believe this system can be a life-saver for those unable to hear emergency alerts today."

In the demonstration project, FEMA will transmit emergency alert messages to the PRSS using the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP). The PRSS network operations center will re-transmit the warning via the Radio Broadcast Data System (RBDS) on the participating 25 public radio stations on a dedicated digital alerting channel. The stations will broadcast the emergency alert to receivers capable of displaying text messages. Deaf or hard-of-hearing project volunteers will be alerted to the message by a flashing indicator on their radios or a bed-shaker triggered by their radios, to ensure the message is received day and night.

NPR Labs plans to identify 500 individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing in the listening areas of the 25 participating stations. The volunteers will be surveyed periodically to determine the efficacy of the warnings.



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