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Radio Free Westchester

September 28, 2005

County Executive Andy Spano is calling on President Bush to mass-produce portable battery-operated radios with an emergency alert chip in order to communicate with the public before, during and after any type of emergency.

In a letter sent today to the president and the Westchester Congressional delegation, Spano added that the federal government should consider mass production and distribution of battery-powered portable A-chip radios tuned to the Emergency Alert System that would automatically turn on in an emergency. The federal government should give these radios to every household in the country for free - ensuring that every family has at least one radio, he said.

“Having a system like this in place could have helped thousands of people who were stranded after Hurricane Katrina and possibly Rita. They would have been able to receive emergency messages and instructions – even if they had no power,” Spano said. “Both 9-11 and Katrina showed us there is a desperate need for a better way to communicate with the public in times of emergency.”

In a separate but related request, Spano is also asking that Westchester be the next demonstration site for the all-hazards national alert system currently being developed by the federal government. He noted that Westchester has a “wide range of potential terrorist targets and situations that require emergency communications with the public” and the county’s “location, size, and technology infrastructure would make it well suited as a test location.” “As one of the most technologically savvy counties in the nation, I know that we could work successfully with the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA on a pilot project,” according to the letter.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been testing a system in Washington D.C. that uses public and commercial broadcasters, satellite radio, cell phone companies, technology developers, pager service providers and cable operators to transmit alert and warning messages. For example, if a tornado or hurricane were to approach an area, residents would receive an alert over their televisions, radios, cell phones and the Internet.

Spano noted that he previously lobbied for a requirement for an Alert Chip (A-Chip) in televisions, as well as in home and car radios. The technology for this chip exists and would not be expensive for manufacturers to install. In the event of an emergency, the A-chip would automatically be activated as part of the existing Emergency Alert System causing the TV or radio to be turned on so that an emergency message could be broadcast and residents could receive instructions.

“Now I am suggesting Congress should request that FEMA include the Alert Chip (A-chip) as a part of its national emergency notification system,” he wrote.

#

September 27, 2005

The Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Bush:

I recently read with interest that FEMA has begun to test in the DC area an all-hazards alert system, which is to be integrated with state and local emergency response systems. This system, eventually intended for the whole nation, would use public and commercial broadcasters, satellite radio, cell phone companies, technology developers, pager service providers and cable operators to transmit alert and warning messages.

Among the many lessons of 9-11 and, more recently, Katrina, has been the need for a redundant communications system. It is clear that we need a redundant way of communicating with the general public to better ensure their security.

In response to the news about FEMA’s announced test, I am asking your help for three follow-up steps that will ensure a modern and multi-faceted alert system.

First, Westchester County would be ideal as the next test site for this all-hazards national alert system. I do not need to remind you of the large and wide range of potential terrorist targets and situations that require emergency communications with the public. I believe Westchester County’s location, size, and technology infrastructure would make it well suited as a test location.

Second, last year I wrote to my congressional delegation in support of implementing such a system, and specifically, about a requirement for an Alert Chip (A-Chip) in televisions, as well as in home and car radios. The technology for this chip exists and would not be expensive for manufacturers to install. In the event of an emergency, the A-chip would automatically be activated as part of the existing Emergency Alert System causing the TV or radio to be turned on so that an emergency message could be broadcast and residents could receive instructions. Now I am suggesting that you and Congress should request that FEMA include the Alert Chip (A-chip) as a part of its national emergency notification system.

Finally, the Federal government should consider mass production and distribution of battery-powered portable A-chip radios tuned to the Emergency Alert System that would automatically turn on in an emergency. The Federal government should mass produce and distribute these radios to every household in the country for free. This would ensure that every household has at least one radio. This kind of mass production and distribution scheme also makes sense from the perspective of civil defense planning. The portability of these radios is their critical feature. Had they already been distributed, they could have been used before, during, and after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, for example. Those in harm’s way would have had a mechanism by which to continue to receive emergency messages and instructions if they had to leave their homes or had no power.

I believe that Westchester County would be an ideal test site for an all hazards national alert system as well as the Alert Chip and tone alert portable radios. As one of the most technologically savvy counties in the nation, I know that we could work successfully with the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA on a pilot project. Thank you for your assistance and advocacy with DHS and FEMA to help Westchester become the next demonstration site for the all hazards national alert system.

Sincerely,

Andrew J. Spano, County Executive

AJS/KP/fa

cc Honorable Members, Westchester County Federal Delegation
Secretary Michael Chertoff, U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security



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