Broadcasters = First Responders?


At the National Association of Broadcasters convention this week, Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) will reveal details of a bill that she will introduce: The First Response Broadcasters Act of 2007.

The bill would give broadcasters special privileges at a time of disasters like the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, essentially making them the equivalent of “first responders” to catastrophes.

The bill would also make broadcasters eligible for matching grants administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to aid in the construction or reinforcement of on-air facilities. After Katrina, only one television station, WWL New Orleans, remained on the air and did so because it had planned for the emergency.

The bill would create a three-year pilot program, funded at $10 million a year, to encourage broadcasters to obtain “disaster-resistant” equipment.

Broadcasters would have access to federal supplies of fuel, food, water and other essentials. And stations would be able to retain such necessities without fear that they would be confiscated by authorities. A Landrieu spokesman says that, after Katrina, some stations had food and water confiscated.

In the hurricane's aftermath, New Orleans TV-station executives said shortages, particularly lack of fuel, hurt their ability to function. The FCC also launched a study to make sure vital communications functioned as well as possible, as soon as possible, after disasters in the future.

A third component of the Landrieu bill would make the local municipality the authority for issuing and honoring press credentials. For example, if the law had been in place when Katrina struck, a press pass from the city of New Orleans would be the only credential required or honored.

After Katrina, there were instances in which some state and federal authorities would not honor a local press pass, and some agencies created their own. The bill would also allow station personnel, such as engineers, to enter restricted areas so they could work on repairing a station's facilities.

Landrieu is chairman of the Disaster Recovery Subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Last week, in a statement about the proposed bill, which she will introduce later this week, she said, “An effective response to future disasters will require better coordination at all levels of government and the private sector, and broadcasters across the Gulf Coast and the nation have demonstrated leadership in this effort. But broadcasters cannot get what is often life-saving information out to the people that need it most if they cannot stay on the air.”