The federal government began shipping emergency radios to thousands of public schools nationwide last week in an effort to more quickly alert school personnel to an impending hazard, whether it’s a hurricane or a terrorist attack.
Three federal agencies—the departments of Commerce, Education, and Homeland Security—are spending roughly $5 million for the radios, which will be supplied to 96,000 schools, said Jordan St. John, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA oversees the operation of 950 short-range radio stations that broadcast news of hazards across the country.
The radios—which traditionally have been used by police and other law-enforcement agencies—broadcast a range of warnings, from information about tornados and hurricanes, to missing children, to hazardous-materials accidents, Mr. St. John said.
“We already have the infrastructure in place to do this, and we’ve been encouraging more and more public places to use these radios,” Mr. St. John said.
The radio distribution to schools actually started last year, with roughly 16,000 schools in the largest cities receiving them. This fall, an additional 80,000 schools are getting the radios, Mr. St. John said.
Up to the Minute
NOAA’s radio system operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, broadcasting word of national, state, and local emergencies, even when other means of communication are disabled. The radios turn on automatically when an alert is about to be broadcast, Mr. St. John said.
Six states—Florida, Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina, Washington, and Mississippi—already required schools to have such radios, but those schools will receive new NOAA radios from the government, he said.
In Hillsborough County, Fla., the 192,000-student district has been using emergency radios for years as required by state law to receive weather alerts and, more recently, “Amber alerts” that notify the public when a child has been abducted, said Stephen P. Hegarty, a spokesman for the district.
Bob Henry, the principal of the 400-student Naramake Elementary School in Norwalk, Conn., received his new emergency radio last week and placed it in his office, where either he or his secretary can hear it at any time. Snowstorms, flooding, and hurricanes are the weather events he most has to worry about.
“You can have all the emergency plans you need, which we do,” said Mr. Henry. “Now, we’ve got the immediate, up-to-the-minute information that will allow us to activate our emergency plans more quickly.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 04, 2006 edition of Education Week as Schools Across U.S. to Receive Emergency Radios