Thursday, September 15, 2005

Live From Washington, D.C., This Is Red Cross Radio!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005 — The American Red Cross is reaching high into the sky to bring the most up-to-date, most accurate Hurricane Katrina relief information directly to storm survivors, relief workers and Americans coast to coast.
Live from Washington, D.C., this is Red Cross Radio!
Since Sept. 5, XM Satellite Radio has dedicated channel 248 as its official Red Cross channel. The round-the-clock broadcast – sometimes right from the Red Cross Disaster Operations Center – is aimed at the XM Nation of five million-plus subscribers.
At the down-to-earth end of this innovation, XM and Audiovox have donated 200 satellite radio receivers to the Red Cross, which will use them throughout the region ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
"You can take these units and put them in a shelter, in a vehicle, and run them on batteries," said Scott Walterman, XM's director of news programming. "This will give the Red Cross flexibility of communications like never before."
As a satellite-based "mega-station," XM reaches listeners nationwide and it's nimble enough to customize content quickly.
"This will let the Red Cross get immediate information about shelter locations and assistance programs to anyone who has XM Radio service, even in their car, without them having to wait for a ‘middle man' to report it," said Charlie Zurenko of the Red Cross disaster response communications unit in Washington, D.C.
"This is brand new for us, but as we get to using it, I can see us communicating pre-landfall evacuation and disaster preparedness information to people in vulnerable areas.
"Down the road, this has the potential – and this is exciting – of letting us use Red Cross Radio to reach volunteers pre-landfall and during a relief operation, when land-based communications are down, as they often are after a disaster. This is satellite radio, so it doesn't rely on infrastructure on the ground."
Maggie Linton is one of the XM producers who create programming for Red Cross Radio. An enthusiastic veteran of 33 years in broadcast journalism – much of it breaking ground as a woman in sports reporting – she goes beyond converting press releases and internal communications into audio: She talks to volunteers and even recipients of Red Cross assistance.
"We'll be going to the (Washington, D.C. armory) shelter to do live interviews," she said. "Our aim is to have a two-hour loop with fresh content. We want to keep it interesting and up to date, so your volunteers, people in shelters and our listeners around the country can rely on it."
XM Radio channel 248 carries general disaster relief information and updates geared to specific locations. Information of interest to residents of shelters in Baton Rouge, for example, can be anchored at a set time each hour. With Hurricane Ophelia threatening the East Coast, Red Cross Radio broadcast an interview with a Red Cross disaster worker in Hilton Head, S.C., about preparations there.
"We can invite our partner agencies to use this tool too," Zurenko said. "For example, the Humane Society could use it to provide information to pet owners: What they need to think about before a disaster strikes, in terms of their pet's wellbeing. Where they can find an evacuation shelter that can accommodate pets. How to comfort a pet during a traumatic relocation period."
Shelter managers will decide how to use the XM Radio capability. Depending on the facility, programming may be broadcast over a public address system, or it may be more appropriate to set it up in an "information room" dedicated to that purpose.
The Red Cross channel is in addition to XM's existing Emergency Alert channel 247, which carries updated information before, during and after natural disasters, weather emergencies and other hazardous incidents.
"The Red Cross recognizes that one of the most important things people need in an emergency is information," Zurenko said. "This is a very 21st century way to communicate with people in real time, without some of the limitations of systems that are vulnerable right when people need them most. It just adds to all the other ways we communicate with the American people."


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