Monday, February 10, 2014

Letter to the Public from WION regarding the recent Ionia Prison Escape.

And...What WION listeners need to know about our involvement in emergency notifications of all sorts.

When it comes to being up to date, WION has all the currently mandated Emergency Alert System equipment. It is quite familiar to most listeners for its regular tests with Garry Osborn's voice reminding you about the Medical Reserve Corps' place in our community, and you've often heard it used (it's most frequent use) for summer weather alerts, like tornado or severe thunderstorm watches and warnings when it breaks into programming.

This system is multi-part, monitoring larger cities' stations to the West  for weather and other West Michigan emergencies.  When the monitored stations issue an alert or test of weather or OTHER types,  it triggers our EAS automatically, day or night, relaying the test or emergency information to you, our listeners.  It's up to date, and was new two years ago, costing us $2500 and mandated or "be fined" by the Federal Communications Commission.  It is also mandated to be tied into the public internet for triggering by either Local or State-Level officials.

The connection to the internet part of the system  was the reason for the updated hardware  being required by the FCC and the Federal government.  Our EAS system also monitors regional emergency servers in Lansing for State and Federal disaster information or tests.  The "idea" of the system is that in our area, if something threatening life or property happens, an alert can be triggered over WION by state, local, or regional officials whether there is anyone in the radio station's  control room or not.

During the recent prison escape NO alerts of a local or regional level were triggered by the City of Ionia, the County of Ionia, or any State of Michigan official, even though the local "emergency" was quite real, and the type of alert we could and should have received is called an  "L.E.W"  (Law Enforcement Warning) alert, and can be triggered on  EAS boxes in the affected area.   In the opinion of this radio station owner, these triggers should have been used for Ionia, Greenville, Hastings, Grand Rapids, and Lansing, all of these towns being in reasonable travel time for an escapee from MDOC in Ionia.  To me, this  makes sense. Using this alert system would also have served to notify owners of broadcast stations in these areas of the serious issue at hand.  (given that stations have some type of forwarding for listener  phone calls 24/7 like we do!) 

FACEBOOK is not a way to notify public in serious situations.  While noted as "not part of the procedure" in a recent Sentinel-Standard article,  it's obvious that those charged with Facebook communications at our city level don't understand how FB works.  The article claimed 55 THOUSAND people saw their post. A simple look at the page shows this is not correct, and if it were true, that number would be equal to most of the population in Ionia County.  This may be the total hits  to their FB page AFTER the story went national, but during the early minutes and hours of the emergency, a few dozen are logged as "seeing" the Ionia City Public Safety posts about the prison escape. For those that don't know, Facebook does NOT deliver all posted messages to all followers of any page.  Research it!  Facebook  delivers messages only to people who regularly interact with the sender in the hopes of more eyes on their page's ads. It's how this FREE service works, and remember, we all get what we pay for when Facebook is concerned.  Facebook controls the flow of information you provide.   When you combine that, with relying on 'social media" for information, you have a recipe for a local disaster.

WION has been here under our ownership for a decade this year. We were "on air" during the ice storms of 2005-2006. We had Sheriff Dennis in our studios during it.  We installed full time generator backup to better serve you.  We bought and built an FM license and station for Ionia County so you can receive us 24/7, and we maintain all our equipment in top-notch condition.   We developed our OWN streaming service which repeats 100 percent of our on-air programming (not only 'part' like big city stations do) to anyone in the world, local or far away 24/7.  This includes EAS alerts, tests, weather warnings, and ANY activity our EAS box is required to pass on to you, by automatically overriding programming.

Additionally, any phone calls to WION are forwarded to our owners 24/7. ANY communications by phone to us will notify an owner. This is NOT required by the “Feds” for our license, but rather a service we feel is necessary to best serve our listeners. 

The fact is, more than one public entity charged with your safety dropped the ball where notifying WION about the local prison emergency is concerned. Even given the hours  in which the event unfolded,  we would have gladly assisted, and calmly notified listeners of the situation, to be alert, and to lock doors and cars.

As an owner and on air personality,  I can tell you that in 25 years of being on the air, I've dealt with many emergencies;  severe weather, 9-11 as it happened, serious local floods, lost children called-in live to swap shop shows, and have experience in the research, writing, and delivering of news when needed in a calm and organized manner.   The lack of early notification by officials to WION directly contributed to our inability to serve you, and had NOTHING to do with OUR abilities, and has EVERYTHING to do with local officials at multiple levels dropping the ball where notification is concerned.  WION received NO calls (to be forwarded automatically) NO faxes, and no EAS activations.  This comes after an e-mail from one city official promised in a January to WION,   " I am going to work harder this up coming year to be more proactive on my outreach."

We're here for you.  Completely capable of calmly distributing information on AM, FM, and online to listeners, and to (our) Facebook, and even our own website since all of this is done in-house, not "contracted out."

If you want better coverage in emergencies on WION,  then please raise your voice toward better communication by public officials to WION and to ALL MEDIA,  before the next local emergency becomes a local DISASTER.

WION, meanwhile has raised questions with radio station engineering leaders in West and Central Michigan as to why this new federally mandated EAS system was ignored in our own county, and our area, if not the whole state. At some point, the whole state could have been alerted, given the direction of the fleeing escapee was not known.   The experts at other stations to whom we've spoken find this to be a valid point,  and we're all involved in researching what CAN be done to fix what we see as a huge hole in the “Emergency Alert System.” (and it's lack of use by Ionia officials during the recent prison escape.)

WION is your station, Ionia County. We've proven it in our backing of the POSITIVE things in our county. In raising money for great causes. In donated airtime, and in improvements to this station that NO ownership has done more-of in the 60 years of WION's existence.

We trust that this clears up any questions, and will  show our commitment to you, our listeners and community, hopefully with improved communications from those in power during emergencies.

It is not our intent to point blame at individuals, but to ask that officials better communicate to better protect our listeners. By doing so, we learn from this event how to be better prepared for future situations.

Jim Carlyle
Owner, Chief Operator and Morning Host,
WION-AM and FM 92-7