Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lights were off....and nobody's home....

Well, Ionia County just finished a week that included power outages for about 13 thousand customers of Consumers' Energy.  The hum of generators echoed through many a neighborhood, and WION Radio was operating on its generator (at full power on both AM and FM) through the whole local emergency. 

This outage should-have, once again served to make an example of how prepared we SHOULD be for some basic small emergencies. I have a feeling, however that it did not. I base this on observations made while on the air at WION working, and by the calls we received...and those we didn't!

At least two local school districts, in their infinite wisdom relied entirely on electronic means to notify the public, if not their staffs of delays and closures.  Furthermore, one local school which serves its own website reportedly had internal failure of their system, and a third (according to a very upset caller)  would not answer its phones after repeated attempts to call.  Likely a symptom of the failure of an all-electic phone system.

As a guest to our studios noted, and I agree,  the use of digital/electronic notification may work in mid-winter when its a snowstorm building up on roads that causes a delay or closure. But, in a county with massive power outages, it is irresponsible for ANY organization to post its closures exclusively  via e-mail, text, TV and the internet.  It's an example of flawed-thinking.  At the height of our local outage, 13 thousand of the county's residents did not have access to electricity. The VERY SAME electricity that powers DSL modems, cable line-amplififers and cable TV, and also powers standard  "over the air" digital television sets. (There aren't many digital portable TV's in circulation, and those that ARE available have poor reception in our area.) 

It's time for residents of our area to take some responsibility. Responsibility for their own communications, their own emergency plans for similar situations, the case of schools and larger organizations, responsibility to those who put them in positions of authority. 

For schools, this means going back to the old "call the local media" with your information. In the case of WION, the owners receive phone calls 24/7, and the station is backed-up by an automatic generator. Most everyone in our county owns at least one or two radios, and if they don't they can sit in the car and get an update if necessary whether they have a battery radio, electricity, or not.  It makes NO sense for schools to rely solely on their information getting to the public via an internet that requires power in multiple locations, and TV that requires the cable system or the end-viewer to have power! This system failed miserably last week, as NO human communication came from any area school to WION AM and FM.

For families and businesses, it means having a PLAN. If your business is "dark" when the power's off, do you have flashlights? Rechargeable lanterns are wonderful, inexpensive, and come on when the power's off and are great for houses and businesses. The old fashioned "flashlight" can also become your best friend!   How about food in your home?  If you have an electric stove, what's the plan for feeding your family if that's your only way of heating food? If you have electric ignition on an LP or Natural Gas stove, can you light it safely by manual means? Have you tried?'s a simple but overlooked an old-fashioned hand-crank can opener?  Do you and your kids know when to open the refrigerator/freezer and when not-to? Do you know how long certain foods can be kept safe during outages?  Great information is available from your county extension offices and the health department.

Our power outages lasted at the most around 48 hours in Ionia County. Roger Packard reminded us in his visit to WION during the height of the outage last Wednesday that autumn is prime season for more strong to severe weather activity, and...of course that winter with its ice storms and strong winds can re-create our outages very easily. 48 hours left people scrambling in businesses, homes, and schools.

With minimal time and minimal money invested, you CAN be better prepared. Keep food and water on hand.  Invest n a crank-powered or battery-powered radio. Don't expect Grand Rapids media to give a darn about Ionia County, they're too busy worrying about Kent county and their ratings. Tune-in to local radio. Don't assume your texts and e-mails are getting to your audience during an emergency, in fact, if you can.....go back to having ONE wired phone from a "real" bell system in your home or business, and you'll be thankful when you can still call 9-1-1.  Remember, that "magic jack" or "vonage" phone only works when there's power all along the network. Charter phone won't work when lines are down and power is out along the way outside your home. Think about these things when choosing and renewing your vital communications and less-vital entertainment services.

And finally, there are a few online resources you can access now that help later. WION placed a link to "ready dot gov" on our website's main page "info panel" for you to use. It goes deeper into addressing how to better prepare your home, family, and business for many kinds of emergencies.

Keep in mind, too..that the people who work in public service, at 9-1-1, the skywarn group, our local Amateur radio operators, Electric service, and others deserve our thanks. They're the ones "out there" while we're "in the dark"....and they're the ones risking their lives, at times to fix what mother nature brings our way, and rebuild our broken infrastructure. 

In this radio station owner's opinion, Ionia County got an "F" for "failure to be ready" in this last round of power outages. But, we ALL have time to plan and be ready for the next local emergency.  Plan. Now. And, remember, your cellphone/DSL/Cable and digital TV only work with the power "on" what's left to help you with information?  

Radio.  WION at 1430 AM and 92-7 FM.