NPR Labs to Pilot Project of Radio Emergency Alerts

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NPR Labs to Pilot Project of Radio Emergency Alerts for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing People in U.S. Gulf Coast

February 22, 2013 – Washington, D.C. – NPR Labs has been awarded a contract from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to demonstrate the delivery of emergency alerts to people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing in the Gulf Coast states through local public radio stations and the Public Radio Satellite System (PRSS®).  This is the first effort to deliver real-time accessibility-targeted emergency messages, such as weather alerts, via radio broadcast texts.  

This pilot system is intended to demonstrate that all individuals, including those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, can rely on battery-powered radios to stay informed in emergencies when electricity, Internet and other communications channels are unavailable.

NPR Labs, the technology research and development group of NPR, will work with DHS and FEMA to identify 25 public radio stations in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to participate in the pilot. The distribution network of the Public Radio Satellite System (PRSS) will be used to test the effectiveness of the message delivery system. The Gulf region was chosen because it is frequently subjected to extreme and sudden weather conditions. Once proven, the system could be rolled out nationwide on the public radio stations served by the PRSS, which reach 95% of the U.S. population.

“As we work to promote disaster preparedness and awareness, it is important we remember to equip every member of our communities,” Congressman Steven Palazzo (R-MS) stated.  “This valuable partnership with Mississippi’s local public radio stations promises to expand the reach of our disaster alert systems, and I can think of no better place to conduct this trial than the Gulf Coast.”

“NPR Labs has developed expertise in making radio broadcasts available and accessible to everyone,” said NPR Labs Vice President and Executive Director Mike Starling. “We believe this system can be a life-saver for those unable to hear emergency alerts today.”

In the demonstration project, FEMA will transmit emergency alert messages to the PRSS using the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP). The PRSS network operations center will re-transmit the warning via the Radio Broadcast Data System (RBDS) on the participating 25 public radio stations on a dedicated digital alerting channel. The stations will broadcast the emergency alert to receivers capable of displaying text messages. Deaf or hard-of-hearing project volunteers will be alerted to the message by a flashing indicator on their radios or a bed-shaker triggered by their radios, to ensure the message is received day and night.

NPR Labs plans to identify 500 individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing in the listening areas of the 25 participating stations. The volunteers will be surveyed periodically to determine the efficacy of the warnings.

About NPR Labs
NPR Labs’ mission is to identify, evaluate, and advance the application of innovative technologies in support of the public service mission of NPR and its member stations. NPR Labs was established in 2005 as one of America's only not-for-profit broadcast technology research and development center and is located at NPR headquarters in Washington, DC.

About NPR
NPR is an award-winning, multimedia news organization and an influential force in American life. In collaboration with more than 900 independent public radio stations nationwide, NPR strives to create a more informed public – one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.

About the PRSS
The Public Radio Satellite System® (PRSS) is the distribution network through which thousands of hours of news, music, and specialized audience programming are delivered every year to almost 1,700 public radio stations throughout the United States. Managed by NPR Distribution, the PRSS is a unique, cooperative enterprise. Each participating station is a stakeholder in the collective assets of, and services provided by, the satellite system. Interconnected stations own their own downlink and uplink equipment. The satellite transponder capacity, as well as the national operating system equipment located in Washington, is owned by the Public Radio Satellite Interconnection System Charitable Trust.

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Posted February 22, 2013