Thursday, June 02, 2005

Radio station to broadcast storm info

Source: Palm Beach Post

When Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne hit here last year, Port St. Lucie officials sometimes left their emergency operations center and drove to Fort Pierce radio station WQCS to broadcast information to their residents.

"By the time we got here some of the information had been quickly outdated," Ed Cunningham, Port St. Lucie's public information officer, said Wednesday. "The food would be gone at distribution sites or other things had changed.

"Now we'll have radio to get accurate information out more quickly," he said.

If a hurricane hits this year, Port St. Lucie officials will be able to broadcast over WQCS, the state's official emergency broadcast station for this area, from the city's police department.

That's one of the improvements station manager Jim Holmes and Treasure Coast emergency managers have made for the 2005 hurricane season, which began Wednesday.

Managers from St. Lucie, Martin, Okeechobee and Indian River counties met with reporters at WQCS to talk about improvements for this season.

The four counties and Port St. Lucie have agreed on a schedule so that only one briefing will be under way at a time to be broadcast.

WQCS is coordinating the broadcasts, but other stations will be able to pick up the sound for their own broadcasts.

"There will be a campaign to promote these times so residents will know when to tune in for information from their county," Holmes said.

The schedule starts at 7 a.m. each day and ends at 6:30 p.m., but other briefings will occur if warranted.

The schedule will be as follows:

• Okeechobee County: 7 a.m., 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.

• St. Lucie County: 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m.

• Port St. Lucie: 8:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

• Martin County: 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

• Indian River County: 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Port St. Lucie and Martin County officials said they're trying to provide more room for reporters in or near their operations centers so information is more readily available than it was last year, particularly during Frances.

Gene O'Neill, emergency management director of Okeechobee County, said he welcomes the four-county agreement.

"One problem last year was a lack of information from the coastal counties," he said. "Last year, when WOKC went off, we switched to a Spanish-language station and some people didn't like having to listen to the Spanish music.

"Now we'll have two sources of radio information and broadcasts," he said.

Indian River County's Nate McCollum said his county again will put his press conferences on the Internet so people who evacuate can stay informed about their home county.

"Now they can go to a library or other place where they're staying and stay connected with home," he said. "Last year we got a lot of comments that it gave people a sense that recovery was occurring and not all was chaotic."

Despite all the preparation and improvements for 2005, they all have one hope — that it won't be needed this year.

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