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AM Radio: Not The Latest, But In An Outage, The Greatest

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September 14, 2011

During last week’s blackout, many people were in the dark about what was happening as their TVs, Wi-Fi, cordless phones and cell carriers all failed them.  

The County and other sources were actually releasing plenty of information. But there was only one sure way to get it: AM radio. And if your smartphone worked, the County’s Twitter feed provided constant updates.

Interestingly, the most essential communication mediums during the outage were among the oldest and the newest, which probably explains why some people couldn’t access them. Commercial AM radio is about 90 years old, and many households don’t even keep a receiver anymore.  And while there’s wide awareness of 5-year-old Twitter, it still has a fraction of the regular users of Facebook.

We hope the blackout convinced you: you’ve got to have a battery-powered AM radio at home; Twitter is worth trying.

As you made your way home in horrible traffic last Thursday, how many of you turned on your car radios and flipped through the static until you found KOGO AM 600 broadcasting loud and clear? KOGO is in fact the primary disaster information radio station in San Diego (The secondary station is XTRA Sports 1360 AM.) Both stations have emergency generators and will be on air, even when power is out. As the primary designated disaster information radio station, KOGO participates in federally-evaluated emergency drills with the County Office of Emergency Services to simulate activating the Emergency Alert System and sending out emergency messaging over the air.

So there’s good reason the County urges everyone to keep a battery or crank-powered AM radio in an emergency kit at home. During the blackout, we saw why having an AM radio only in the car isn’t adequate. No one wanted to be driving around. It was a mess on the road, and it wasn’t clear how long the gas in our tanks would need to last before power returned and gas station pumps worked again.

The limitations of computers and even cell phones were evident during the outage, but those still able to access the internet were rich in information thanks to tireless tweeting from the County and San Diego Gas & Electric.

The County kept Twitter users constantly informed, sending out 123 tweets during a roughly 24-hour period from Thursday afternoon through Friday. 

On the County’s Twitter feed, residents learned early that all schools were closed the next day, whether or not they needed to conserve water, that law enforcement was out in force, that public transportation would be running Friday, that hospitals were running on backup power, that County and City employees were expected for work the next day and when power was expected to be restored.

The information was thorough, useful and reassuring.

So take a look at the County’s recent tweets, and consider learning more about Twitter as both an everyday information source and as a key emergency medium.  But even before you embrace the modern, make sure you’re equipped with the technology of the past and buy that new or used AM radio and batteries for your emergency kit!