Emergency radio in India happens at last

on 01 February 2016. Posted in News from the region

CuddaloreRadioA phone call from John Nelson, Managing Trustee of Sarnalayam Trust, in Cuddalore is what it took to get the ball rolling to set up the first emergency FM station in India. Cuddalore district was among the severely affected areas by the floods that hit Tamil Nadu on November 8, 2015. Reportedly, 80 people died, two villages were completely cut off from the road, and as many as six out of 13 blocks in the district were severely affected. The most difficult task in disaster mitigation is to cope with the aftermath of disaster and loss. And Cuddalore was no different.

Nelson felt a radio station would be timely to cater to immediate needs – for warning signals, connecting families, emergency announcements, direct people to relief material and vice versa. Moreover, a radio station in Cuddalore was much needed, given that media coverage of the floods focused mainly on Chennai and other neighbouring areas.

Nelson alerted Ram Bhat of Maraa and Acting President AMARC (World Association of Community Radio Broacasters) Asia-Pacific, and suggested the need for an emergency station. Members of the Community Radio Forum (CRF) quickly acted upon this request and approached the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the Wireless Protocol Committee to issue an emergency license for flood affected Cuddalore. Almost as a domino effect, things fell in place, and the license was issued on December 7, 2015. The public sector enterprise, BECIL (Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Ltd.) made arrangements for a transmitter; technicians and CRF volunteers left for Cuddalore the same night.

The radio was set up with the bare minimum requirements. BECIL technicians worked all day on December 8 to install the transmitter. Two poles mounted on top of one another transformed into a tower, antenna and remaining parts were assembled in complete darkness atop the District collectors’ office. The station went on air midnight of December 8.

History was made (Please see editorial by Ashish Sen on earlier efforts to set up emergency radio in the country.) This was an important move towards achieving hands on experience on disaster communication. Significantly, the bureaucratic procedures involved in acquiring a license were minimal in this case. The focus was on effectively addressing the urgency of the matter and high priority was accorded to ensure that local communities had access to information in their local language.CuddaloreMap

Volunteers from Auroville Radio, Kalanjiam Radio and independent broadcasters reached out and helped set up the station with basic equipment and produced a jingle and announcements. It was inaugurated by the District Collector on December 9. In every sense, the station marked a new beginning. While it is still early days, field reports confirm that the local community have started to call the radio station requesting for information and also sharing their grievances. According to Ram Bhat, “The District Collector comes as and when he is free to visit the radio station. He has asked the radio station to restrict itself to announcements related to government information. The radio station personnel are noting down all the grievances on a register and passing it on to the DC, but this content is not being aired as of now. There is [also] a shortage of volunteers, equipment and funding for the emergency radio. The district administration while supportive in principle has not offered any financial or in-kind support apart from the building, power supply and basic furniture.”

Meanwhile, as things are still afloat, people are finding ways to stay connected. A place of belonging is being built on air. Tune into 107.8 FM in Cuddalore.

Source: © Ekta Mittal, Maraa, UNESCO Chair on Community Media