In the past few months the world has seen the strongest storm ever to make landfall, in the Philippines, and some of the worst flooding in decades is hitting Zimbabwe, the UK, and elsewhere. Many would agree these occurrences are only going to increase, and all we can do is be more prepared – more forewarned, informed and co-ordinated.
So it is worth highlighting the role of radio on World Radio Day, which is marked every 13 February. In the power cuts that usually follow extreme storms, strong winds and flooding, the medium that is often least affected is radio, it uses less power and is not dependent on mobile or IP networks.
Just two weeks after Typhoon Haiyan, a radio station – not a website nor a newspaper – was set up in one of the worst affected areas of Philippines, providing local people with essential information, but also providing a focal point for them to contact, with their own information and questions. With grave fears of a second by typhoon as heavy rains roll in, one listener messaged in regard to the station’s hourly weather updates: “Your report about the weather update is really a big help for us.”
And this role as a “focal point” is key. In the UK, last week’s official quarterly radio figures show the medium still reaches a staggering 91 per cent of the population. With areas of the UK currently swamped by floodwater and bracing themselves for more, the network of local radio stations — both BBC and commercial — are a key source of information for travel updates, security information, and for instance, something as practical as the availability of sandbags.
If you live in Berkshire, the only info you need for travel, floods & insight re what’s happening is from @BBCBerkshire The team is shining.
— Geoff Motley (@GeoffMotley) February 12, 2014
In less than 24 hours, this will be upon us: pic.twitter.com/u54vOKlQfx
— 104/104.6FM & DAB (@BBCSurrey) February 13, 2014
But this is not only over the FM or digital radio airwaves, but increasingly over social media and web. A radio station’s online presence is just as important – its analogue existence of being “there” and local is complemented perfectly by the fact that people visit its website and follow its tweets for information.
Digital media strengthens rather than competes with radio’s role in a crisis, and more could be made of this relationship, better linking radio’s focal point to all the rich and real-time data at our disposal these days such as Google mapping and text alerts, which radio analyst and producer Jonathan Marks has made a very cogent case for.
World Radio Day is a timely opportunity to remember radio’s role, and future, in a crisis.