Alabama House Passes Emergency Broadcaster Bill

MONTGOMERY, ALA.—Following in the footsteps of Illinois, Nevada and Wisconsin, the Alabama House of Representatives has passed HB383, known as the Emergency Response Broadcasters Bill (opens in new tab). Sponsored by Rep. John Merrill(R) and Sen. Slade Blackwell(R), the bill would provide for training and accreditation for radio and TV broadcasters, as well as cable operators during emergency situations.

“Broadcasters in this state, in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security and the Alabama Broadcasters Association, or its successor organization, may develop comprehensive, coordinated plans for preparing for and responding appropriately to an emergency or disaster,” the bill states.

The legislation would also authorize emergency-response broadcasters to have access to areas affected by emergencies and disasters to restore coverage when and where necessary. (Broadcast engineers were known to brave flood waters and gale-force winds to man transmitter facilities during Hurrican Katrina in New Orleans eight years ago.)

“To the extent practicable and consistent with not endangering public safety or inhibiting recovery efforts, state and local governmental agencies shall allow an emergency response broadcaster access to an area affected by an emergency for the purpose of restoring, repairing, or resupplying any facility or equipment critical to the ability of a broadcaster to acquire, produce, and transmit essential emergency public information programming, including, without limitation, repairing and maintaining transmitters and generators and transporting fuel for generators,” the bill states.

The bill is currently in committee in the Senate and not yet on the legislative agenda for this session. If passed in the Senate, the legislation will also enable broadcasters to have access to areas affected by a disaster or emergency in order to maintain key broadcast facilities.