HDTV and Emergency Management
Ray J. Vaughan, MS
The next time you wrap up an emergency at your EOC, and youre in your last
press conference, do me a favor. Wave goodbye to your public. This may be the
last time they see you for quite a while.
Technology must move forward. And were about to take a step forward thats
going to leave Emergency Management a step behind. For the first time in many
many years, were not going to be able to visually communicate with the public
after a disaster. This change is an unexpected side effect of the move toward
High Definition TV.
Unless a new Congress slows it down, Television as we know it goes off the
air February 17, 2009. But even if theres a delay, at some point, analog TV
goes away. What goes away with it?
No doubt about it, HDTV is impressive. The video resolution is so much better
than anything we had in the analog world. But with the rush to sell 65
projection sets and 42 Plasma and LCD sets, the smaller (and less expensive)
end was forgotten.
At this point, in November of 2006, there are NO portable HDTVs, no battery
operated HDTVs. In fact, many of HDTVs on the market today are technically
monitors, not receivers. There is no tuner to receive local HDTV signals in the
Those pushing the rapid demise of Analog TV often mention converter boxes to
allow consumers to continue using their Analog TVs after the cut off date.
Unfortunately, these converters are also missing from store shelves.
And just because Analog is going away in 27 months doesnt mean you cant by
an Analog TV today. Yes, theyre still being sold. So right now someone in your
community is buying brand new TV that wont work in just over 2 years.
So, fast forward 27 months. Youre in your press room, giving a briefing.
The cable TV is likely out. This just killed all the cable boxes that people
are using as their HDTV down converter. Those who usually watch local stations
on their little satellite dish are still looking to see where it landed. Oh,
wait, I know, well hook the old TV antenna to the new HDTV. Good plan, but
chances are that if its an HD Monitor, theres no antenna connector. Even if it
was, theres a good chance it was an NTSC (old analog standard) tuner and all it
sees today is snow. Since the HD modulation standard over the air is different
than cable which is different than satellite, you cant just connect your
antenna to the input of your cable or satellite box.
Lets say the promised HDTV to analog converters appear on the scene. How
many of them will work on batteries? I suspect none. But I hope to be proved
wrong. At the very least, it and the HDTV portable will be using more batteries
than the old analog $99 portable TV.
How about watching TV in the car? Yes, many cars are coming with DVD screens.
A few with analog receivers. I still havent seen any with mobile HDTV
Im sure you know what part of your population will be the last to get HDTV.
The same part that needs the most help and is most likely to have trouble
evacuating. Think about the impact of this economic disadvantage.
Another thing that goes away: In many markets, an Analog Channel 6 can be
heard on 88.7 on the FM band. When the analog TV station goes dark, 88.7 must
also go silent.
What will communicating in this non-visual world be like? Think Radio.
Theater of the mind. Consult with classic radio news broadcasters. They have
developed the skills to relate the visual in words. You picture the Hindenburg
crashing as you hear the famous oh the humanity newscast. Youve seen it
hundreds of times. But the people of the day had only that verbal description to
go on. Dont know if it will be effective? Watch the classic movie War of the
Worlds and see if the public of the time could be motivated by radio. But dont
underestimate the changes youll need to make, and your listeners will need to
make, to go back to this old medium.
Youll need to learn to describe things better. Play back some of your air
checks from other disasters with your eyes closed. While the radar was on the
screen did you say something like as you can see
Or more like as the storm
approaches from the east. How will you show jammed evacuation routes verbally?
We see bumper to bumper traffic. We hear traffic is moving at
less than 5 MPH.
Even the classic non-verbal cues, like hand gestures are lost in radio. The
smile you give when things are under control has to come out in your voice
Always be aware that while you see the facts, the public will imagine
something far worse. Fairly describe the damage youre showing. The houses
were showing now have many roof tiles missing but they appear habitable sounds
a lot better than Just look at the roof damage.
Also keep in mind what everyone is hearing from other sources. When you
monitor local media between press conferences, include the local radio outlets.
After 2009, the percentage of those listening to radio will be way up. The radio
stations simulcasting TV stations will likely have more confused listeners.
Theyve been putting up with the TV guys saying look at this for hours. The
radio stations with their own reporters will likely have better verbal
descriptions and therefore, in theory, may be better partners.
How will you communicate with your hearing impaired citizens? Hope the
cellular networks are still up and have barebones text web page they can access
with their Sidekick or other text/cellphone devices. This group may have the
most to lose with the loss of analog TV. If you're still thinking
TDD, you need to catch up to the current technology to reach them.
If you think this is all happening too fast, I think youre right. In the
1980s, in the UK, the BBC shut down an older, outdated TV standard. The last TV
made on that standard was sold in 1948. Even with 40 years to upgrade, people
still complained and were left without TVs.
Suggestions for the future:
More information about HDTV and the future of Analog is available at the FCC's web site: http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/digitaltv.html
The author of this paper, Ray J. Vaughan, has a Bachelors and Masters degree in Telecommunication Management from Barry University in Miami. He is also a certified Broadcast and Telecommunication Engineer and holds an FCC General Radio Telephone License. He works professionally in Telecommunications for a large County Public Safety and Emergency Management Department. He is also a Communications Specialist (COM-S) in FEMA, Urban Search & Rescue.
This paper is a work in progress. I welcome your feedback, comments and
especially your suggestions for the future. Please e-mail me at
firstname.lastname@example.org . Let me know if I may add your comments here, and with
or without credit to you. I would like to present this at a conference
related to Emergency Management Communication.
Last update: 01/14/2008