Emergency preparedness

This year's hurricane season is expected to bring more named storms than average. Prognosticators also predict that this higher-than-average occurrence will continue for the next several years as part of a normal cyclical weather pattern.

That means that stations along the coasts can anticipate even greater hurricane damage than last year. Add that to the tornado damage that has already occurred in the Midwest and South this year, and it is apparent that the normal power lines need to be augmented. Big winds can bring cross-country power lines and local distribution wires down. Therefore, television stations in these severe weather areas should plan to generate their own electricity for extended periods.

Standby power plants

Standby systems are a well-developed technology with highly competitive pricing and good reliability. The first step in developing a station standby power system is determining the capability of the system.

The transfer switch can be placed at the primary disconnect panel for the entire building. In the best possible system, a UPS is installed downstream of the primary disconnect. This ensures there is no momentary power interruption when the power fails. The UPS keeps the station running without glitches while the generator set starts, comes up to speed and goes online. Unfortunately, this type of system is probably the most expensive. The only real work involved is determining the maximum load, which can be decided by the power company through its demand metering.

To save money and still obtain a highly usable system, the station should make a list of its energy requirements. It's not necessary to have the outside lights, interior lighting, air conditioning or other auxiliary systems on the UPS. Those systems can easily tolerate a momentary break in power without any damage. And keeping them off the UPS can greatly reduce the required UPS size.

It usually doesn't make a great deal of sense to cut loads off with regards to the generator. The loads that can be eliminated are usually quite small in comparison to the main loads from the transmitter itself. Any savings are usually offset by the cost of rewiring the transmitter building, enabling loads to be left off the standby power system.

To put together a standby power plant, it is highly recommended that a station hire an engineer who is experienced in such system designs. Often, a preferred manufacturer will recommend an engineer. It can be assumed that the engineer will not pad the system size for a bigger commission — the industry is far too competitive for this type of action.

When meeting with the engineer, be sure to involve your electrical contractor. The options of what to include in both the UPS system and the standby power coverage will almost always be affected by the necessary wiring. Major rewiring of the entire facility will probably be quite expensive when compared with simply installing everything at the primary power disconnect.

Fuel choice

Your next big decision is what type of fuel to use. The fumes from spilled gasoline in an enclosed space are highly explosive. Natural and liquid natural gas are awkward for the average operator to handle when performing minor service. Good, old-fashioned diesel fuel is normally the fuel of choice.

The fuel must be treated with readily available additives when it is stored for extended periods. This helps to avoid the buildup of some nasty organisms.

In addition, the fuel can be filtered by a service to ensure cleanliness. In this case, the fuel is pumped out of the station's tank, through some serious filters and placed back into storage.

Any tank vents or access points must be above the highest water point. It doesn't hurt to have the whole tank elevated, though burial does provide an excellent amount of protection.

This is an area where the design engineer can also be of help. You can't simply dig a hole and throw in the old war surplus fuel tank that you found behind the transmitter building. The tank, along with its installation, must fully comply with EPA regulations or you will be required to dig it up and replace it.

The availability of fuel can be a concern. Diesel fuel is the easiest to obtain — in normal situations. In emergency conditions, having fuel delivered to the transmitter site may be difficult, if not impossible.

For one thing, a lot of people will be clamoring for fuel. Operating a broadcast station is certainly well within the criteria of public interest and justifies getting fuel. However, as some Gulf Coast stations learned during Hurricane Katrina, the officials who approve the fuel distribution are busy during these emergencies. To avoid waiting for fuel, contact the emergency preparedness officials in your area now. Discuss how much fuel the station would need on a weekly basis and how often you would need deliveries to be made. This sets up a determined schedule with a fuel source while cool heads are prevailing. It also eliminates having to track down officials for authorization at a time when they might be too busy to fulfill your requests.

Emergency communications

Hopefully, the station will still have a tower that is erect after a big storm hits. In addition, the station will have electric power available in the transmitter building. That combination makes the station an asset, highly available for emergency communications.

Remember after Hurricane Katrina when the city officials could only communicate via one working network line in a hotel room? Normal telephone systems and cellular telephone systems didn't work after towers came down and the power went out. Along the Gulf Coast, one of the main communications abilities was the use of amateur radio. Hams were the main source of information into and out of the area until the army came in and set up some equipment. Even then, ordinary citizens depended on amateur radio to communicate to their families and friends that they were safe and what their evacuation plans were.

Get the station involved. Helping people communicate provides the news bureau with good material, is great for public relations and is simply part of being a good citizen.

Usually, the amateur community works tightly with the emergency management folks. But, in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, much of the amateur work involved operators using field day equipment in their homes or in other dry locations. Some work was simply done by operators sitting in their cars using their mobile equipment.

Television stations can certainly assist in such work with little or no effort. For example, find a spot on the tower at a reasonable elevation where the emergency communications folks can put an antenna or two. If on the lower part of the tower, the effect on wind loading will not be significant. The insurance liabilities can usually be totally eliminated by a simple call to the insurance company.

When TV stations help with emergency communications, the benefits to the public are obvious. As an added benefit, your actions might even help you get your hands on that diesel fuel when you need it.

Don Markley is president of D.L. Markley and Associates.

Send questions and comments to:don.markley@penton.com