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Secure everything, assume nothing, take nothing for granted

The big lesson learned from Sandy is take nothing for granted. For several days prior to the storm’s arrival, we checked everything; refueled and started every generator, checked the oil, water and battery electrolyte, set up fuel deliveries ahead of time for the worst case scenario, checked all the backup transmitters and STL’s, and so on.  The one thing that I didn’t consider was a storm surge so high that the propane tank would float away.  After all, those tanks are heavy.

However, a brief examination of elementary physics reveals that even when full, a propane tank will float:

One gallon of water weighs 8.3 pounds if it is fresh water or approximately 8.55 pounds for salt water (depending on where it is from).

One gallon of liquid propane weighs approximately 4.1 pounds, thus it is about half as dense as water.

Most propane tanks are not full, being at most 80% liquid volume. It is always the thing that you didn’t think of.

We seem to be suffering a 500 year storm about once a year or so around these parts.  I expect that things will only get worse.  With that in mind, it is perhaps time to re-think our disaster preparedness and recovery plans to incorporate every worst case scenario we can imagine.  Everyone knows, but it bears repeating: Radio is the last link that people have when all other technology fails.  Thus, when it comes to storm preparation, there is no such thing as too much.  Thus:

  • Secure everything
  • Assume nothing
  • Take nothing for granted

Our assumptions about power utility and telephone network reliability and restoration may be wrong.  Our assumptions about access to remote sites, our ability to use vehicles, availability of gasoline and other fuels may be over optimistic.  Our assumptions that basic food stuffs, clean water and secure resting areas may also be wrong.  Get those items wrong and it does not matter how much equipment redundancy is built into facilities.

For remote transmitter sites, access can be a major problem after a storm.  In low lying coastal areas, flooding will be an issue.  In those situations, having backup transmitter sites would be a key feature of any disaster plan.

All good disaster plans also have the human component; clean water, food and safe, secure resting areas for the staff.  As always, when the SHTF and there are no options and no ideas, there is the Bear Grylls survival method:

Bear Grylls

Bear Grylls

Which we really, really don’t want to do (from the TV show Man vs. Wild on Discovery).

Storm preparations underway

Last night, i went to bed and all was well with the world. This morning, I woke up and, Hey Now!  It would seem there is trouble a brewing out in the ocean.  The weather people are talking of some super storm, a combination of a category two hurricane and a winter blizzard with a tsunami and a bit of dust bowl thrown in for good measure.  Okay, I made up the dust bowl part.

Here is the five day forecast:

Hurricane Sandy five day

Hurricane Sandy five day

It looks like the Mid-Atlantic coast is in for a direct hit, but the probabilities include coastal NY, NJ and CT.  Thus, storm preparation has begun.  Today’s list is as follows:

  1. Check All backup generators, refuel as needed.  Check oil, water, battery water, etc.  Make sure generator starts from remote command.
  2. Check all backup transmitters, where installed.
  3. Check other backup systems, such as STLs, sump pumps, etc.
  4. Make sure that buildings are secure and any loose items are secured.

Perhaps this storm will be one of those over-hyped non-events.  Only time will tell however.  If it continues on its present course, then personal preparation will consist of:

  1. Procuring a good flashlight with fresh batteries for the tool kit (perhaps several).
  2. Taking care of household needs for the storm.
  3. Full set of mechanical tools.
  4. Some extra food and water in the work truck.
  5. A change of dry clothes in the work truck, including shoes or boots.
  6. Sleeping bag in the work truck.

Better to be prepared than to sit in wet clothes wishing it wasn’t so.  More updates to follow.

Saturday, 8am Update:

During Hurricane/Tropical storm Irene, it was the rainfall that did the most damage.  Looking at the current rainfall predictions, it appears the worst of it will be to the south by a good bit:

Hurricane Sandy Rainfall prediction

Hurricane Sandy Rainfall prediction

These things can change as the storm progresses, continuing with preparations.

Update, Sunday afternoon, 3pm:

The storm is still progressing more or less along the forecast track. Further to the south and in coastal areas, there is a strong possibility of flooding. Around this area and north, it looks like it will be a mostly wind event, with only 3-4 inches of rain predicted. Preparations are being finalized, I have added the chain saw to the truck inventory.

NAB thinks Translators offer more value than LPFM

Alternate title: “I love Stupidity,” somebody else’s, usually not my own.  It’s a bit hard to reconcile the NAB’s desire for translators against the need and strong community support for local radio.  The original intent of translators was to fill in coverage areas of existing FM licenses within the parent stations protected contour.  Very few translators are actually used for that purpose today.  They have, instead, morphed into vast over the air relay networks for NPR and religious stations or are relaying programming of HD-2 channels which would otherwise not be heard.  Why we would need more of that, I don’t know.

The unfortunate part of all that stupidity is the side effects.  Think of the stupid driver who cuts of a tractor trailer on the interstate and causes a big pile up.  There are the potential injuries to those involved in the accident but also the inconvenience to all those stuck in miles of backed up traffic.  That is a fairly minor occurrence.

With big corporate government, the size and scale of stupidity can reach epic proportions. To wit:  During the natural disasters that overtook the northeast, indeed other areas of the country as well, local radio was proven to be a reliable, sometimes life saving means of communications time and time again.  Yet, in spite of all that, the NAB seems to think that LPFM stations (community radio) should be second to cross band translators broadcasting AM stations and HD-2 channels.  Regarding FM translators on AM stations, the NAB says:

NAB first commends and supports the Commission’s proposal to eliminate the restriction on the use of FM translators by AM stations to translators that were authorized as of May 1, 2009. FM translators enable AM stations to overcome inherent technical disadvantages that limit audio quality compared to other services, thus limiting their service to the public and even threatening their economic viability.

Oh where to begin. First of all, AM stations do not have inherent technical disadvantages, that is a myth.  Off the shelf AM receivers are of inferior quality and make a well designed, well executed AM station sound like a telephone. If one were to listen an older AM radio or AM on a receiver with variable bandwidth IF, you would find that it can sound quite good, if not very good. The problem is that the receiver manufactures never carried through with the promise to open up the bandwidth following the implementation of NRSC-2 in 1991.  One should wonder why.

Second, there are many AM stations out there that are economically viable. Those stations that have local programming and serve the community of license and have not been neglected or turned into a automated syndicated radio repeater.  Now, could a class C or class D AM station benefit from a translator at night, sure. That may not be a bad distinction to draw, especially for those class D stations with no night time operating authority.

Regarding more translators in general, it is difficult to imagine what all those new signals will be used for, other than more of the same (relaying distant, out of market religious stations, NPR stations or HD-2 programming which nobody cares about).    The FM band is already full of such things and could actually use less, not more.

While unfortunate, the NAB’s position is not surprising.  They do the bidding of their dues paying members, after all.  The anti-competition we are a monopoly stance of the NAB members is not new either. Remember the required economic impact study required by the LCRA on the LPFM vs full power commercial FM stations.  To think that a 100 watt LPFM could significantly impact the business of a class A, B or C FM station is laughable.  Yet, it was a requirement stuck into the bill at the behest of the NAB.

It is up to the broadband minded FCC to see how to slice the remaining FM spectrum up and whether the corporitist NAB’s argument holds water, or the rising call of the people who want a return of local radio and local community service will be heard.

This is a video of what happened during Tropical Storm Irene in Ulster County, where I live:

We are truly fortunate that no one here was killed. In the mean time, the waters around here are still receding, we had some additional flooding Wednesday (9/7) with another 6 inches of rain from Tropical Storm Lee with flood warnings still in effect for several local creeks.

In my neck of the woods, we have nine radio stations licensed within about a 16 mile radius.  One is religious, one is a college station, the other is a classical music format programmed from Albany, 90 miles away, one is a LPFM run by a local high school and two are commercial AM or FM station.  The commercial stations used to be located in downtown Ellenville but moved to Poughkeepsie, about 30 miles away in 1999.  The religious, college, and classical stations are small and have no backup systems or interest in emergency programming.  That leaves the high school LPFM, WELV-LP.

In the height of the storm, 11.53 inches of rain had fallen in the previous 8 hours, the power was out, cable was out, the internet unavailable, the Verizon telephone company office in town was almost underwater, we had two sources of local Ulster county information; WDST (100.1 MHz, class A) in Woodstock and WELV-LP in Ellenville.  WDST  studios are located in Bearsville, which is about 25 miles north of here.  They are a locally owned, locally programmed station with a good record of community support.  They did a good job updating emergency information, flooded roadways, emergency shelter information, power restoration information, dry ice, alternate emergency numbers in case 911 went out, rallying points for local fire departments, etc.  Ellenville Central School district’s WELV-LP also did a good job, although much more confined to the local area around Ellenville and have a much smaller coverage area.  Still, they were live on the air with up to date information.  Thankfully.

Next time, who knows?

Storm Preparation

With Hurricane Irene taking aim at the northeast, now is the time to make preparations for bad weather.  This is the five day forcast:

Hurricane Irene five day forecast

Hurricane Irene five day forecast

Now, five day forecasts are notoriously inaccurate. There are too many variables to make it accurate and even the most seasoned meteorologist will admit, it is an educated guess.  However, the large semi-transparent disk is almost always accurate.  Therefore, it seems we may be in for a bit of a storm this weekend, with the eastern end of Long Island and the Newport/Providence RI in the landfall area. The Bridgeport, CT stations will likely see the worst of it, if the storm follows the predicted course.

Having a good disaster recovery program in place reduces much of the pre-storm work.  This includes backup equipment and personnel allocations to keep the stations on the air and providing valuable information during the event.  Wherever and whenever our clients allow us, we make sure that these systems are properly designed, installed and working.  When trouble is milling about off shore in the form of a Hurricane, then we make a few final preparations, both personally and for the clients:

  1. Top off all generator fuel tanks and test them.  This includes my home generator.
  2. Make sure all loose items are secured.
  3. Make sure other redundant systems; backup transmitters, back up STLs, backup transmitter sites are in order and ready to be deployed.
  4. Check the personal safety items; first aid kit, rain gear, flashlight batteries, work gloves, eye protection, hard hat, some type of energy food and extra water are in the truck.
  5. Get out a clean sleeping bag and a set of clean dry clothes and put them in the truck.
  6. Gas up the chain saw and put it in the truck with extra gas, bar oil and blade sharpener.

During the event, it is important to recognize when a situation is too dangerous to proceed and wait for the danger to subside. Examples of this are local flooding of roadways, downed power lines, high winds, and or electrical storm while working at transmitter sites.

Radio may have lost much of it’s relevance as an entertainment medium, however, there is still one thing it does very well; broadcast emergency communications and information to the public.

Update: As of 5 am 8/25 it looks as if the hurricane is making a b-line toward Bridgeport, CT.  Most of the computer models are now in agreement which means the forecast is getting a better handle on the variables and is becoming more accurate.  Strength is still somewhat debatable, but even a category 1 storm could do significant damage.  We shall see.

Update 2: As of 5 pm 8/26, Irene is still on course for the greater NYC/Long Island sound area.  As much as possible, preparations are complete.  There are some things which cannot be helped, like the height above mean sea level of the WICC and WEBE transmitter sites (10 feet) or the lack of a generator at WXPK studios, etc.  Estimates are for Hurricane force winds by this time tomorrow, so the only thing left to do now is get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow may be one of those long days.

Here is an interesting thing; several people have suggested that IBOC signals on both AM and FM NYC stations be turned off so that smaller local stations will be listenable to local residents in NJ and Long Island.  A secondary consideration would be the amount of power IBOC uses and possibility of backup generators running out of fuel to run something that has little or no audience.  If that isn’t telling….

It should be interesting.

Axiom


A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. An optimist sees the glass as half full. The engineer sees the glass as twice the size it needs to be.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
~1st amendment to the United States Constitution

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
~Benjamin Franklin

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
~Rudyard Kipling

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
~Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, Article 19

...radio was discovered, and not invented, and that these frequencies and principles were always in existence long before man was aware of them. Therefore, no one owns them. They are there as free as sunlight, which is a higher frequency form of the same energy.
~Alan Weiner

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