The Broadcasters' Desktop Resource

What About Low(er) Tech Solutions?

As I read about the hand-wringing about reverse 911 failures, EAS failures and the like, I am struck by the fact that no one is looking at older technologies that we have abandoned in favor of newer technology.

New technology depends on infrastructure that is always in danger of being compromised in a disaster. So my modest suggestion is, what about sirens?

I really think that none of the systems in place currently can respond quickly enough to start evacuation in the presence of a fast moving wild fire like the Camp Fire.

Sirens have the advantage that they don’t require any end-user technology to work. If residents know that the sirens mean an evacuation alert, they can immediately get into motion and turn on their portable radios to get information (by the way, we are living in the era where many young persons do not own a radio receiver, portable or not — big problem). At least most cars have radios.

If the cell phone was left in the kitchen and they are in bed, they know to get it into their hands. I see only two real down sides. One obvious one is deaf or hearing impaired coverage. Also there is the need for power and signaling to activate the sirens. It is possible to harden these devices so that loss of power could be dealt with by a fairly small generator set. If wireless signaling were used, the generator would be sufficient. Such systems could be built in areas that have a high risk of wild fires.

Of course these days, they need to be designed to be as non hackable as possible.  That is one reason I specified a radio link, not the internet! That needs to be true of everything remote accessible.

I’m old enough to remember the scheduled testing of the air raid sirens in the cold war era. Regular tests would be required of course.

In closing, I’d like to point out the error of discarding old ways.  Two examples:

Because of GPS, the military shut down and in some cases dismantled loran-c, which was a functional radio location system. Now they realize that because of the weak satellite signals from GPS, it is easily jammed or faked by an enemy. Now they are scrambling for funding to get e-loran (improved system) installed as a back up for GPS. Had they not discarded loran-c, a more gradual upgrade might have been possible while all along having a terrestrial working system in place.

Remember morse code? Shortly before it was abandoned there was in incident where a vessel off the coast of Alaska had a fire in the engine room.  They got the fire out, but it left them with no power to run all the modern technology on board leaving them adrift. But what they did have on board was an emergency battery operated morse set and an operator who knew how to use it. The only “processor” needed was a trained human brain, and they were able to call for help. The call was received by coast station KPH who was able to notify the coast guard.

Sometimes, simpler is better.

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Chris Hays