Information Station Specialists is the best known source of traveler's information stations, highway advisory radio, advisory signs and services needed to reach motorists. Learn more about Information Station Specialists.
     
ISS logo

Case Study:  Fort Bend County, Texas

September 2007
Fort Bend acquires the largest group of emergency advisory radio stations in the Nation. County emergency coordinator Jeff Braun offers perspective on the project.
The Setting
Fort Bend County is located near the Texas Gulf Coast in hurricane country. The population is estimated at 500,000, up 39% since the 2000 census, a pretty significant growth rate. In fact, Fort Bend County is the 20th fastest growing county in the United States. It is a busy area, too, with US Highways 59 and 90 and State Highways 6 and 36 crisscrossing the County. At any given time, if you include Gulf Coast area visitors, thousands of motorists could be on more than 2,000 miles of roads in the County at any given time.

The Need
In 2005, Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Braun of Fort Bend County realized his department needed a way to reach these people during hurricane evacuations. He explains it this way: “A confluence of things came together. The US was experiencing more hurricanes. I saw an emergency advisory radio system ad in a professional publication that connected me to Information Station Specialists and theRADIOsource.com. The Texas Department of Transportation uses similar systems, so I was familiar with the concept."

The Plan and Preliminary Funding
Fort Bend County decided to start small that year with funding they secured from the Department of Homeland Security for enhancing emergency notifications, such as, “significant road closures" or "assisting in emergencies.” The intent: to build a grow-able system that could be further developed over time, as more funds became available. Jake Haggerty, the Homeland Security Planner for the County’s Office of Emergency Management, coordinated the purchase of two portable emergency advisory radio stations (RoadRunnRs) that could be quickly deployed to trouble spots. Each is completely wireless with a 10-day operational battery backup and operates primarily on solar power. That is, AC power, which often goes down during emergencies, is not simiply required for RoadRunnRs. Each includes immediate automatic NOAA all-hazard notification programming, targeted to the Fort Bend area. And each includes messages created by Fort Bend County emergency management staff.

That same year, 2005, sure enough, the Houston region faced the threat of Hurricane Rita. The RoadRunnRs went into action. Fort Bend is immediately north of Brazoria and Galveston Counties, along evacuation routes. Braun relates, “As a result of Hurricane Rita, there was gridlock along the evacuation routes. Vehicles extended from our southern-most to our northern-most borders, caused by backups in the preceding coastal counties, as people tried to leave.” Lessons learned, he says, included: “Just as we already knew, two RoadRunnRs were not enough to communicate fully with the citizens and visitors served during hurricane season.”

The Solution
The Office of Emergency Management called on Information Station Specialists to propose a system that would provide coverage areas at various points across the County, approximately 875 square miles. Information Station Specialists representatives met in Texas with County emergency officials to select installation sites and monitor available frequencies, based on FCC rules and County needs. Information Station Specialists reps are strategically located across the country to assist customers. Nick Oldenkamp, the Texas rep, felt the people in Fort Bend County were "wonderful to work with." Their conclusion: add one fixed ALERT AM emergency advisory radio host station with nine satellite stations. The County would continue to deploy mobile RoadRunnRs to any special-need trouble spots, such as specific incidents, i.e., river flooding events or hazmat incidents.
Additional Funding
Emergency Operations in Fort Bend set to work looking at FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funding to pay for the planned expansion of the County’s emergency advisory radio system. The HMGP provides grants to states and local governments to implement long-term hazard mitigation measures after a major disaster declaration. The purpose of the HMGP is to reduce the loss of life and property due to natural disasters and to enable mitigation measures to be implemented during the immediate recovery from a disaster. Braun admits that applying for federal funding is a “competitive endeavor.” Even so, the County garnered 75% of the total expenditure to be paid by FEMA. The County paid the other 25% or about $97,500.

Lessons Learned in Fort Bend
  • Emergency managers might have to develop a full system gradually, adding stations each year, as funding becomes available. (It is useful to be aware, also, that stations may be leased to be tested, if purchase is not possible initially and/or staff is unfamiliar with the technology.)
  • FCC guidelines must be followed, for example, station locations might not be possible only on County property.
In Fort Bend’s case, several jurisdictions within the coverage area needed to cooperate, so stations could be located at municipal fire stations, a state park and even a power plant. “Fort Bend County has a history of working together on emergency-related projects,” says Jeff Braun. “So this wasn’t really an issue; we have formed two regional hazmat response teams, and fifteen of our sixteen jurisdictions are party to the County’s EOC plan. Besides, this wasn’t a real ‘invasive’ project – just a few small antennas with minor electrical costs. The ‘greater good’ was understood by all involved. The state park was excited about the prospect of being able to broadcast info about park closures. The power plant is a long-term entity in our community with the leader of the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) working there, a relationship we built on. There was ‘the devil in the details,’ however, such as working out legal agreements, which the County Attorney handled on our behalf.”

The Future
Ft. Bend Operator“Our project is not finished yet,” Braun enjoins. “Right now, we are looking at signage options to more fully advertise the stations, so listeners know when and were to tune. We want to use flashing signs along with static signs containing standard text and will use grant money for that as well. Signs will be our primary way of marketing the system, although a few jurisdictions have already began publishing articles about the system. Also, County emergency officials speak about the new emergency advisory radio stations at hurricane workshops they hold for other first responders, such as the Red Cross, hospitals and citizen volunteers. We just went through the Hurricane Dean threat. Most of our messages to date have been NOAA broadcasts and hurricane related preventive messages, created by our staff that we want listeners to be aware of.”

Contact Jeff Braun for more details about Fort Bend’s project. January 2008, Braun was elected to serve on Texas' Emergency Management Association's board of directors. Braun also serves as Vice Chair of the Houston-Galveston Area Council's Regional Homeland Security Coordinating Committee and Chair of the Regional Collaboration Committee of the Houston Urban Area Security Initiative Working Group. He was appointed to the Texas Preparedness Advisory Committee by the State's Chief of Emergency Management.
An 80-foot tower was constructed at the County's center specifically to provide support for the wireless audio link transmit antenna responsible for sending the audio program from the EOC to 10 ALERT AM stations that repeat the program at various points around the County.
Ft. Bend Synched Stations Map 
Fort Bend chose Information Station Specialists' Vertical Profile Antenna System (VP9000), ANSI/TIA-rated for hurricane-force winds. Many of the AM antennas needed to be installed near public buildings where aesthetics are important; and many of the County's stations were near unattended buildings where security might be an issue. VP9000 offers low ground disturbance and electronics inside the pole to be vandal resistant.
Vertical Profile Antenna Collage
Additional Links