Disaster Recovery Subcommittee Members Introduce First Response Broadcasters Bill
WASHINGTON - Members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Disaster Recovery Subcommittee, led by Chair Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., and Ranking Member Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, today introduced the First Response Broadcasters Act of 2007. The bill reinforces the existing partnership between the federal government and broadcasters by taking steps to ensure local television and radio stations are able to stay on the air when a major disaster strikes.
"All of our local media -- broadcasters, newspapers and Web sites -- did an amazing job keeping the people of Louisiana and our region informed in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita," Sen. Landrieu said. "But with phone lines down, cell phones out, and streets flooded, the sound of local radio and television stations was what many people relied on. It was an important voice in those dark days and nights following the storm and flooding, and that voice continued on for months.
"As many local radio and television stations stood up and put commercial interests aside to serve the public interest, the federal government should be ready to stand up with them. That is what this bill is about."
"Broadcasters provide an invaluable public service to Americans, especially in times of crisis," said Sen. Stevens, also the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee. "Many people in my state know this first hand. Alaskans, particularly those in the most remote areas of the state, have endured devastating earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons.
"As we strive to improve disaster preparedness in Alaska and the nation, Congress must ensure that broadcasters have the tools to effectively communicate with people when time is of the essence. History has proven that the critical information provided by television and radio broadcasters can save lives."
"I'm pleased to join my colleagues in putting forward this important proposal," said Tom Carper, D-Del. "Anyone who has dealt with an emergency situation in their state as I have as Governor of Delaware knows how important local radio and television broadcasters are in providing assistance and key information to those who may be riding out a storm or waiting for aid to arrive in the aftermath of a disaster. The steps taken in this bill to ensure that broadcasters have access to information and the resources necessary to stay on the air will help us save lives and property and improve our disaster response capabilities."
"Broadcasters provide a critical service in helping us all prepare for and respond during emergencies," said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark, also the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on State, Local, and Private Sector Preparedness Integration. "This legislation will give them the ability to get emergency information to the public quickly and accurately."
The bill designates local radio and television stations as "first response broadcasters" because of their existing disaster response partnership with the federal government. Radio and television stations are required to participate in the national Emergency Alert System (EAS). There are also 34 radio stations, called Primary Entry Points, with government-funded direct lines connecting them to emergency command centers in Washington and in their states. The Landrieu-Stevens bill adds Primary Entry Points nationwide to ensure every state can broadcast urgent warnings, evacuation rouges, safety instructions and other critical emergency information.
"We cannot prevent tornadoes, hurricanes or earthquakes," Sen. Landrieu said. "But what we can and should do is to warn people and keep people informed in times of disaster. For more than 50 years, we have required local broadcasters to be on that front line, sounding the alarm. With the entire industry dependent upon the public airwaves, broadcasters have a duty to serve the public in times of crisis."
Following Hurricane Katrina, confiscations of fuel procured by Mississippi broadcasters inhibited efforts by local radio and television stations, dependent on generators for electricity, to stay on the air.
The bill would open access to federal supplies of fuel, water and food. While highest priority would remain reserved for emergency services, health care facilities and public utilities, the bill would protect broadcasters' independently secured supplies from federal government seizure except in the most dire cases of emergency need.
"Despite our federal investment in emergency systems and entry point stations, there were several Gulf Coast broadcasters after the hurricanes that could not stay on the air simply because the government took the fuel away," Sen. Landrieu said. "This bill protects the critical resources broadcasters need to stay on the air."
The bill invests in critical-to-air facilities, often in the path of destruction, by establishing a Broadcast Disaster Preparedness Matching Grant Program. The grants could be used to protect, upgrade or enhance facilities and infrastructure to better position stations to continue providing vital public information during a disaster. The legislation further directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to expedite access to the disaster area by broadcast engineers to restore transmitters and other key broadcast facilities and infrastructure.
The legislation also determines that press access guidelines for broadcast, print and Internet reporters to a disaster area shall continue to be determined by the local agencies that had been so responsible before the disaster occurs. This creates a consistent model for journalist accreditation and eliminates the bureaucratic confusion created by multiple local and federal agencies attempting to enforce conflicting access rules.
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), state broadcasting associations representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the Radio-Television News Directors Association have joined in support of the bill. The provisions are also aligned with recommendations already made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and an independent presidential advisory panel.
The Senate bill will be referred to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and a House version is expected to be introduced by Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La.
More information regarding the First Response Broadcasters Act, including full bill text and profiles of broadcaster efforts following recent major disasters, is available online at http://landrieu.senate.gov/broadcasters.