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WJAB-FM Will Help Hearing-Impaired Receive Emergency Alerts

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WJAB-FM is one of 26 National Public Radio (NPR) member stations selected to participate in a pilot program to demonstrate the delivery of emergency alerts to people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing in the Gulf Coast states. The initiative is a joint effort with NPR Labs, the technology research and development group of NPR, under a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

 

The pilot project represents the first effort to deliver real-time, accessibility-targeted emergency messages, such as weather alerts, via radio broadcast

texts.  WJAB joins NPR affiliates in the Gulf Coast states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.   Each station will transmit emergency alerts to deaf or hard-of-hearing volunteers in its listening area to gauge how effectively the messages are being sent and received.

 

“We are thrilled to participate in this very important project to ensure that everyone in our broadcast area has equal access to emergency alerts and potential life-saving information in times of crisis,” said Mrs. Elizabeth Sloan Ragland, WJAB-FM station manager and director of Alabama A&M University’s Telecommunications Center.  “One of the central missions of public radio is to serve and inform our audiences, and our participation in this project is just one example of how we are working to accomplish this goal.”

 

WJAB is the first station in Alabama to broadcast the signal that carries the emergency-test messages for this project.  It was one of the earliest in the whole project.  We are especially grateful to WJAB Chief Engineer, Michael Morns for all of his help, co-operation, and the sincere interest that he and the station have shown in serving the community.  This came at busy time for WJAB, and we really appreciate all that Mr. Morns, Carl Sampieri and Mrs. Elizabeth Sloan-Ragland have devoted to this important project.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing volunteer participants in the Huntsville area are now receiving messages via WJAB's RBDS (Radio Broadcast Data System) stream, using special receivers.  The signal also fills in the map for system users who may travel into the station's coverage area; the auto-scanning receivers will find WJAB anywhere that it is the strongest signal having the information we transmit.


“This is a crucial first step in this very important project,” said Mike Starling, Executive Director, Technology Research Center and NPR Labs. “I want to sincerely thank WJAB for volunteering to participate in a project that will demonstrate that all individuals, including those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, can stay informed in emergencies when electricity, Internet and other communications channels are unavailable.”

 

In the demonstration project, NPR will transmit emergency alert messages through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Integrated Public Alerting Warning System (IPAWS) to the Public Radio Satellite System (PRSS) in Washington, D.C., using the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP). The PRSS network operations center will then transmit the warning to the participating 26 public radio stations via the Radio Broadcast Data System (RBDS) on a dedicated channel. The stations will broadcast the emergency alert to specially designed radio receivers capable of displaying text messages. Deaf or hard-of-hearing project volunteers will be alerted to the message by a flashing indicator on those radios or a bed-shaker attached to and triggered by those radios, to ensure the message is received day and night.

 

The Gulf State region was selected as the location for the new emergency alert system because it is frequently subjected to extreme and sudden weather conditions. Public radio stations, served by the PRSS, reach more than 95% of the U.S. population.

 

The participating NPR Member stations include:  Alabama: WUAL, Tuscaloosa; WBHM, Birmingham; WLRH, Huntsville; WJAB, Huntsville; Florida: WUSF, Tampa; WLRN, Miami; WPBI, West Palm Beach; WUFT, Gainesville; WMFE, Orlando; WFSU, Tallahassee; WGCU, Fort Meyers; WJCT, Jacksonville; WQCS, Fort Pierce; Louisiana: KDAQ, Shreveport; KEDM, Monroe; WWNO, New Orleans; WRKF, Baton Rouge; KRVS, Lafayette; Mississippi: WMPN, Jackson; and in Texas: KERA, Dallas; KUHF, Houston; KETR, Commerce; KUT, Austin; KMBH, Harlingen; KEDT, Corpus Christi and KVLU, Beaumont.

 

The next step in the project will be for NPR Labs to work with WJAB to assist in identifying individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing in the listening areas of the 26 participating stations.These volunteers will be surveyed throughout the pilot program to determine how effectively the test messages are being received.

 

NPR is an award-winning, multimedia news organization that reaches 27 million listeners each week, and nearly 23 million people monthly on digital platforms. In collaboration with more than 900 independent public radio stations nationwide, NPR strives to provide the public with a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures. To find local stations and broadcast times, visit www.npr.org/stations.

 

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