ETAC Column: Summer is here and so is Hurricane Season

by C.C Copeland, ETAC Member, and Director of Engineering, Louisiana Public Broadcasting

As the school year and college semesters are both getting ready to start again and everyone’s thoughts are on the fun of summer vacations, it’s also time to focus on Hurricane Preparedness. For those of you who live in the areas prone to hurricanes, you pay close attention during this time of year - especially when your local weathercasters say there is a disturbance out there. It’s also time to get your game plan together and check your supplies and surroundings. Having lived in a hurricane region all of my life, it’s high on my to-do list for summer plans.

As I prepare this article, the whole Gulf Coast is preparing for impact from Tropical Storm Barry. The system is expected to become a Category 1 hurricane and make landfall on Saturday and residents from the Upper Texas Coast to the Florida Panhandle are monitoring the progress of this system. Storm surge, heavy rains, and hurricane conditions are possible across the north-central Gulf Coast in the next a couple of days. We are over 60 miles inland and I can feel the wind picking up already.

Hurricane Fact: There are two Hurricane seasons; can you name them?

Atlantic Basin (the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico) is from June 1st to November 30th and the peak of the season is from mid-August to late October.

There is also a Pacific Hurricane Season as well which officially began on May 15th in the East Pacific Ocean and on June 1st in the Central Pacific; they will both end on November 30th.

The National Weather Service defines a hurricane as a "tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 74 mph (64 knots) or higher."

Hurricanes are rated according to intensity of sustained winds on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. The 1-5 scale estimates potential property damage.

A Category 3 or higher is considered a major hurricane.

Hurricane Fact 2: Hurricane names are pulled from six rotating lists maintained and updated by the World Meteorological Organization. Storm names are retired only when those storms are particularly deadly or costly.

At Louisiana Public Broadcasting we work closely with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP). We have a direct fiber connection and broadcast the live emergency briefings statewide from the command center during hurricane season and any emergency situation that is declared.

From the station perspective before the start of hurricane season we have a routine SOP plan that we follow yearly and it’s always in flux as we are always making improvements to it, as no disaster or hurricane season is the same.

During the last weeks of May we have all of our generators topped off with fuel statewide in the event of a power grid disruption we will be able to remain on the air. (This comes from experience as some of our transmitter sites are not easily accessible during storms as downed trees pose a problem and the fuel companies won’t risk the safety of their staff to try and deliver fuel). We also update the emergency phone list and the staff essential personnel list. We check all of the station radios and batteries.

In Operations and Production, we have shifts coordinated to cover on-air and studio production and news uplinks because travel during the storm may not be possible. Have food and beverages at the station for the staff that will be on shift during this time.

At the transmitters and studio, we make sure that there are no items outside that are left unsecured that could become projectiles in high wind situations. We also make sure that our transmitter engineers and essential personnel all have current Statewide Credentials to allow them safe passage for the purpose of assessing damage and to make repairs once the impacted area has been secured and deemed safe.

Once the storm enters the Gulf we activate our LPB Storm Preparation Plan. It’s based on a 72-hour schedule that gives us enough time to get things organized for the event.

Traffic/Programming will push out program logs as far in advance as possible. They will also have remote access to create more logs if needed. Just a note: this will be the first event that we will be able to use the new PBS sIX Interconnection to request programs needed for the extra logs that will be pushed. From the Engineering perspective, it’s a known fact that heavy rain and Ku-Band satellite signals don’t play well together, so this will be a great asset to have.

From the Administration/Business Operation side meetings are held and vendors are contacted in anticipation of office closures. Backups are made outside of the nightly and weekly system backups that are already in place.

Did I forget to mention that we are a known news outlet for uplinks? So, outside of the normal emergency preparations for the regular station items, we also prepare for the deluge of requests from the various national news outlets to start booking our studio for hits during the event. CNN, MSNBC, FOX News just to name a few are regular customers and we also handle International clients as well.

That’s all I have time for at the moment as activity is picking back up so I need to help.

Finally… remember the most dangerous thing during a hurricane is not the winds: it’s the storm surge that produces flooding.

In the event of a hurricane and you don’t evacuate and are suddenly cast into being sheltered in place you should have the following items in your hurricane survival kit - see the below PDF for more information. (Note: the PDF may take a few moments to fully render)

2019 ETAC Hurricane Essentials Guide and Checklist