Gatlinburg Deploys New Alerting System Following 2016 Fires
Wednesday, October 18, 2017 | Comments

Following last year’s fires fanned by hurricane-force winds that tore through popular tourist destination Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a new alerting solution is in place. The 2016 fires killed 14 people and terrified thousands of residents and Thanksgiving visitors while destroying millions of dollars in property.

Capt. Joe Galentine of the Gatlinburg Fire Department determined the department needed a more comprehensive way of reaching people they serve with real-time emergency instructions. The department deployed an ALERT AM Emergency Advisory Radio Network, integrated with special signs, outdoor warning sirens and text-based emergency notifications.

The speed and ferocity of the firestorm overwhelmed Gatlinburg's safety systems, including cell towers and 9-1-1 calls. Firefighters experienced communications issues. The emergency operation center’s phone system lost power. Fire hydrants went dry when water-pumping stations lost power or burned.

Local officials decided to install three synchronized emergency advisory radio stations to cover Gatlinburg and portions of the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This will provide a means of communicating with the public because virtually everyone has access to a radio receiver. The radio system will be integrated with outdoor warning sirens, special emergency signs and a text/email/phone notification platform to provide a comprehensive means of alerting residents and visitors alike wherever they are.

Text-based notifications will automatically be converted into broadcast messages to be heard on all radio receivers in the community. Underway now, the implementation will become a countywide communications tool to be commanded by the Sevier County Emergency Management Agency. The goal is to reach more people more quickly with more useful information.

The network was made possible by a recent FCC rule detailing how Travelers' Information Stations (TIS) radio stations may be leveraged in emergencies to protect life and property, a statement said. According to the FCC, the stations may be synchronized to cover communities with local safety officials having total authority to manage broadcast content during crises.

Michigan-based Information Station Specialists will supply the system.

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