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Radio and Natural Disasters

September 21, 2017

With the devastation in Houston, Florida, and other areas due to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma still fresh in our memories (and with months still to go in hurricane season), it’s probably a good time to remind ourselves of the important role that radio plays in responding to natural disasters.

First of all, radio has historically been the go-to medium for people seeking information. With its portability, as well as its ability to operate on batteries, radio has served as the first line of communication for over a century now. In fact, in a 2012 mashable.com article by Matt Petronzio – 14 Gadgets to Prepare You for a Natural Disaster – radio was listed in the #1 spot for tech must-haves to have on hand during a disaster, outranking batteries, headlamps, water purification systems, and cellphone add-ons.

Why? After all, in this day and age of pervasive wireless technology, one might think that well-charged phones and computers would reign supreme. But as Petronzio stated, “Radios may seem like primitive technology in the digital age, but they’re still very effective in relaying information during an emergency.”

This is not to say, of course, that other technological devices aren’t handy during an emergency. As a 2014 article, How Important Is Radio In An Emergency?, on markramseymedia.com points out, radio is a “one-to-many” medium. “It’s great for communicating sweeping messages of critical importance to an entire community. It’s also great for creating the communal sense that ‘we’ll all get through this together.’ “

The article then stated that mobile devices are “one-to-one.” They provide the ability to call our loved ones to assure us that, despite the disaster, they are safe. So the article concluded that “… what radio provides is not ‘better,’ per se, it’s just different.”

Different or not, “in the wake of natural or man-made disasters, radio is your friend,” says The SWLing Post in its 2011 blog on emergency preparedness. Their take? “… no matter where you live in the world, communication is one of the most important ways you can maintain control when the world around you is out of control.”

Communication and the ability to still feel connected in a world turned upside-down means that radio will continue to play an important role whenever disaster strikes. And it’s no secret that before, during, and after every disaster, local radio stations pitch in to help their communities cope. From increased coverage, to live phone call-ins, to DJs using social media accounts to give real-time accounts of damage and resource lists, all of these keep radio relevant and necessary when our world falls apart.

We can’t control the weather. We can’t control terrorism. We can’t control the aftermath of any disaster. But we can control the radio dial. And with its help, we will get the information we need to stay safe during the crisis and then to start the long, slow process of recovery.

-Barbara Krebs, Quality Assurance

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