It was the first real test of the broadened Emergency Alert
System, and it worked like a charm, according to the cable operators that were hit hardest
by this month's catastrophic tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas.
Local press reports said citizens gave the media and
federal agencies standing ovations in church services in Oklahoma May 9.
Information relayed from the National Weather Service gave
most people 30 minutes' warning to take cover from the most extreme tornado -- 318
miles per hour -- to ever touch down in the United States.
"Not a single employee was hurt physically," said
an awe-struck Mike Burrus, president of Multimedia Cablevision Inc. His systems serve
hard-hit Wichita, Kan., where the company is based, plus Moore and other Oklahoma cities.
"That's even though some of them lived in areas
that look like they took direct hits the pictures on TV don't do it
justice," Burrus added.
Despite the destruction in Moore, no damage was done to
Multimedia's headend or other major equipment. The operator's systems have been
rebuilt, and Moore is connected to a regional headend via fiber, Burrus said.
"We had a number of fiber optic nodes in harm's
way, but no direct hits," he added. In areas that still had homes, the operator
restored service to 80 percent to 90 percent of the serviceable area within 72 hours.
If there's anything good to say about the cataclysmic
event, Burrus said, it's that it made him even more appreciative of employees, many
of whom came to work voluntarily immediately after the danger passed to get the system
"Still, 41 people were killed. There's nothing
you can see positive enough to get that out of your mind," he added.
Assessment has not been completed in the several
tornado-stricken towns Multimedia serves, but Burrus said several-thousand customer homes
Multimedia's parent, Gannett Co., made a sizable
donation to the local Red Cross, he said, adding that local employees raised money and
donated goods to help their fellow displaced workers.
When the alarm went out in the Oklahoma City area, crawls
across the bottom of each active channel advised subscribers to tune to channel 22 in that
area for the most information, said Meribeth Sloan, director of marketing and public
affairs for Cox Communications Inc.'s Cox Cable Oklahoma City.
Additionally, the operator has a joint news venture with
the local CBS affiliate, and that project, News Now 53, did live programs before and after
the storm to aid viewers.
"It was our first use [of EAS], and it worked
beautifully. Local reporters called to say they had seen it. Now that's something
[direct-broadcast] satellite can't do," she said
In Cox's area, more than 3,500 homes were damaged or
destroyed. Four employees lost their homes, and one was hospitalized. Some areas remained
cordoned off 10 days after the storm, so assessment was incomplete.
To help with recovery, Cox delivered 5,000 prepaid phone
cards to the Red Cross so devastated homeowners could at least call loved ones and tell
them they had escaped with their lives.
Further, the operator extended extra fiber to NBC as the
network covered the carnage, and to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's local
Animal Planet dispatched its rescue van to the area to help
recover and treat lost pets with the assistance of local cable employees.
The Weather Channel has announced that it is expanding its
"Project SafeSide" affiliate program. The program -- a partnership with the
American Red Cross -- was originally designed to provide safety information in the event
of wildfires, but it will now include safety information on wind-generated disasters.
According to the NWS, tornadoes can occur in every state,
and not just "Tornado Alley."