County EMA awarded new emergency radios

Published 11:36 pm Friday, November 6, 2009

EUTAW — The Marengo County Emergency Management Agency and the EMA organizations of other counties in this region are receiving new emergency information radio systems courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The systems will send out messages riding the broadcast waves of participating FM radio stations to receivers, informing individuals or organizations about weather-related emergencies or other emergencies.

“This gives us another option of providing information to the public, not only of severe weather, but also other significant events as they happen,” said Marengo County EMA director Kevin McKinney. “It adds another layer of response, really, and of notification. It’s really going to be in the people’s hands to respond to the program.”

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The receiver — which will be available to individuals and businesses alike — works very much like a weather radio, receiving text from the county EMA office.

“The EMAs can send a message to the general public, first responders or anyone in a specific group,” said Jennifer Patrick, the implementation specialist for Alert FM, which is providing the systems.

“The FM stations are the infrastructure for the message to go out,” said Alert FM general manager Jim Lowery. “They would be the equivalent of a telephone tower to get a message on your cell phone. Our system would send out a message that goes out through the equipment that we install at the radio stations, and the message is sent out over the subcarrier of those radio stations. It’s a digital message, not an audio message, so that’s why you need to have one of our receiving devices.”

The receivers look like a digital pager, and come at a retail cost of $39.95 from Alert FM. They may be sold by retailers at a higher cost.

Through the NOAA grant, EMA offices will get two desk units and 35 receivers to go to county officials or schools.

Lowery said the system could be in place within 90 days of the State of Alabama approving a contract with his company. Contract negotiations were put on hold last week when the state put a freeze on single-bid contracts.

“The $250,000 grant is one that NOAA puts out every year,” said Charles Williams, preparedness division chief for the Alabama EMA. “It has several stipulations, including a lack of NOAA weather service.

“This will provide an infrastructure and unlimited licenses for them to access to an FM alert Web page to put out warnings and an automatic rebroadcast of National Weather Service warnings to the public.”

Williams said he believes the state will resolve its situation with single-bid contracts as early as a week from now, and the Alert FM system could be in place by the end of the year.

The service will help rural counties get better warning for weather warnings or other emergencies. The system is already in place in Mississippi. Counties that will benefit from the NOAA grant’s provision of the Alert FM system include Marengo, Greene, Hale, Perry, Sumter, Pickens, Lamar, Wilcox and Dallas.