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Town pursues radio station for emergency broadcasts

NORTH STONINGTON — The new Board of Selectmen, which met for the first time Tuesday, discussed the possibility of starting a low-power FM radio station for emergency use.

The Federal Commun-ications Commission is offering free low-power FM radio stations to emergency-service agencies to use for broadcasting from emergency operations centers, said Marc Tate, the town’s information technology coordinator and head of emergency management.

“Basically, they’re going to give us a radio station, possibly, to broadcast from our EOC (emergency operations center) that we can use for an emergency,” said Tate.

A broadcast that could be heard over a battery-powered radio would supplement other means of communication that the town already uses, and would be particularly useful if people are hunkered down in their homes without utilities, Tate explained.

“Right now, we utilize reverse 911, website, email blasts, the flyers in the mailboxes all over town, but the main issue is, sometimes people don’t want to leave their house, they don’t have Internet, they don’t have phone, they don’t have email,” he said.

A regular FM station, Tate estimated, would cost the town about $15,000. The station Tate applied for is free, and the town only has to pay for the equipment, he said.

First Selectman Nicholas H. Mullane II credited assessor Daryl DelGrosso, a ham radio operator, with helping the town with the radio initiative. Tate said DelGrosso’s work saved the town about $3,000 in engineering fees.

Neighboring Stonington is putting together a similar radio station, and Tate said he and George Brennan, Stonington’s director of emergency management, brainstormed the idea together. The discussions began after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, which knocked out power to the entire town.

For some residents, the blackout lasted a week or more.

Selectman Robert Testa asked if the two towns could combine resources into one larger station, but Tate said no. The low-powered stations don’t have a wide enough broadcast range, and the regular stations are too expensive for the town’s budget.

“That’s a lot more money; that’s a lot more maintenance; that’s a lot more engineering,” he said. “The price goes up astronomically.”

The new board consists of Mullane, serving his 16th term on the board and 15th as first selectman; Mark Donahue, serving his second term, and Testa, serving his first term on the board.

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