College given emergency alert radio

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September 9, 2008

8:33 PM

The College of William and Mary has received a public alert radio as part of a federal program to improve emergency preparedness in the nation’s colleges and universities. The radio, also known as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio All-Hazards, is able to receive nationwide alerts regarding national security threats or severe weather conditions, and can operate even in the event of power or other communication outages. The College’s radio will be kept in the Campus Police station.

According to William and Mary Police Chief Don Challis, the radio will be incorporated into the College’s existing emergency plan as a first-alert tool.

“We didn’t ask for [the radio], but we appreciate getting it,” Challis said. “It provides advance warning on a whole host of incidents.”

Though the radio is capable of receiving any nationwide alert, it can be set to the College’s emergency “preferences” to respond to weather hazards specific to Williamsburg. For instance, the radio might be programmed to respond to the National Weather Service’s Hurricane Watch alerts and to ignore the Volcano Watch bulletins. Weather warnings are issued by the local National Weather Service forecast office, while area emergency officials issue alerts for other emergencies.

The College’s radio is one of 182,000 radios distributed to public and private higher education institutions by NOAA, in partnership with the Departments of Homeland Security, Education, and Health and Human Services.

The Public Alert Radios are part of a larger program to prepare schools to handle a wide range of emergencies, and schools are also encouraged to work with local emergency responders and Citizen Corps members to develop disaster response plans. The Public Alert radios cost $59.99 each, but the federal government received a wholesale price for ordering in bulk.

The radio distribution has come under scrutiny from those who argue the federal dollars allocated to the program may have been better spent. Economics professor David Feldman is skeptical about the need for the additional bureaucracy, especially for a service that he believes the College could have easily provided on its own.

“The government doesn’t necessarily have to give out radios,” he said. “Anyone can buy an AM radio. The public good is the information the radio connects us to.”

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