By Howard B. Price
ABC Television Network
Director, Business Continuity
As The New York Times reported, the outage – triggered by the failure of a relay at a Canadian power station – was the result of a cascading failure across the northeast power grid. Systems were overloaded – and in some cases, automatically shut down – plunging New Jersey, New York and New England into darkness for as long as 13 hours. Some 30 million people across 80,000 square miles were impacted.
Almost a million people were trapped in stalled subways beneath the Big Apple. Others were stuck in elevators. Railroads stopped running. Airports were pitch black. Surface traffic found itself without street and traffic lights.
But people called it a “good blackout” – a time when folks of every stripe came together to support each other in crisis.
New York was blacked out again in the summer of 1977 –a “bad blackout” — where anger, desperation and lawlessness boiled over. And again in 2003, just two years after 9/11 – came another “good blackout,” when New Yorkers were still united in a can-do spirit of resilience.
In 2011, huge swaths of the Tri-State region lost power in the October Snowprise – the Halloween storm that felled leaf-laden trees, and power lines along with them. And, just three years ago, it was Superstorm Sandy that pummeled the northeast grid – prompting new regulations in some areas to assure that gas stations would maintain emergency power in order to pump fuel.
In 1965, a very young all-news format on 1010WINS in New York became THE place New Yorkers turned for reliable, timely and credible information when all else failed. And 50 years later, WINS remains a New York news radio institution. Like other news and information stations in New York and elsewhere, it is ALWAYS there when its listeners need it most.
That’s what we do, we broadcasters: We inform, we comfort, we calm an audience – help them through crises, and reassure them that things will turn out alright. And in so doing, we become an integral part of their everyday lives.
But to do that, we have to have well-rehearsed emergency plans and protocols in place – and we have to resource them properly – to maintain our role as “first informers.”
Today – right now – is an excellent time to review YOUR station’s preparedness plans and procedures. To schedule an exercise if you’ve not done one – or done one in a while.
Crank up that generator – check the fuel supply. Remember that your VoIP and cellphones may not work in a blackout – and order in some good ole’ fashion POTS lines and satellite phones, just in case. Cross-train your staff to help out with production and news gathering chores if they’re stuck at the station for long stretches. Lay in supplies of shelf-stable food and water. Get folks trained in first aid/AED/CPR. Schedule quarterly meetings with emergency responders and civic leaders to make sure you can reach them anywhere, anytime; assure access to your facilities in emergencies; and list them as critical infrastructure for utility restoration. Keep your fleet fully fueled, and spare batteries on hand. Keep wireless devices charged. Figure out how you’ll keep your web and social media operations going, too.
And if you don’t have generators, or other emergency resources – and a plan to deploy them – GET ONE. NOW. TODAY. And launch an ongoing community preparedness campaign to pay for it.
Your ability to serve communities in crisis is really the only reason you have a license. And the only unduplicated service you still own. Make it part of your brand.
Remind your listeners – and remind them often – where YOU will be when the lights go out again.
Howard B. Price, CBCP/MBCI is director, business continuity for the ABC Television Network. The opinions expressed in his articles are his alone, and are not necessarily those of his employer. He can be emailed at Howard.B.Price@abc.com or phoned at 212-456-1073.