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TAB Outlines Emergency Resources for Station Operations

- FEMA Letters, FCC Rules, PSAs, More

As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold across the country, Texas broadcasters are confronting multiple questions on issues big and small. From ensuring access to rented facilities and off-air notices to the FCC to potential use of EAS for pandemic notices and educational PSAs, here’s a preliminary compendium of resources. Regular updates will be posted online.

NAB Coronavirus Response Tool Kit/PSAs – The NAB distributed this tool kit and PSAs for all stations to use. Messages are in English and Spanish.

DHS/FEMA Access and Fuel Letters – These letters may be used to help facilitate access to studios, transmitter sites and fuel in the event of a travel-stop order or quarantine. They’re effective through May 28.

View FEMA Access Letter

View FEMA Fuel Letter

Station Off-Air? – The FCC’s standard rules apply for commercial stations. You can be off the air for up to 10 days without authority, need to notify the FCC if you are going to be dark longer than 10 days, and must seek the FCC’s advance authorization if you want to be dark longer than 30 days. Because of the nature of the coronavirus, 10 days should be plenty of time to sterilize the station and resume operations, although operating remotely during that time would be better than going dark. 

Noncommercial college stations benefit from FCC rule section 73.561(A) which eliminates the requirement that such stations maintain a minimum operating schedule “during those days designated on the official school calendar as vacation or recess periods.”

Station Not Staffed? – If circumstances leave a station with no one to staff it and keep it open, do not worry. The FCC’s repeal of the main studio and staffing rules in 2018 means that broadcast stations no longer are required to maintain physical studio facilities in their service areas, and if they do they’re not required to maintain any level of studio staffing. You still need to maintain your online public file, monitor technical operations, originate and relay EAS alerts, and respond to phone calls, but you the station doesn’t need to be open to the public during this health crisis. 

Rented Facilities Closing? – Stations that rent their office space or other operating facilities from unaffiliated entities may encounter a closure notice from their landlord. Under such circumstances, a broadcaster may consider the following response which has been cleared by TAB’s FCC legal counsel:

As I am sure you are aware, the President of the United States has declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency (the “Declaration”). The Declaration has broad implications. Most notably, in the context of our leasing arrangement with you, during a federally declared “time of emergency” certain communications providers, including radio and television broadcasters, are deemed an “essential service provider” due to our unique ability to assist in the timely and broad dissemination of information critical to the public at large. See Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, 42 U.S. Code § 5189e. As an “essential service provider,” we are required to maintain, and should not be denied, access to our studio, office and transmitter facilities during any federally declared emergency. As such, we ask you to afford us access to our facilities at all times while the Declaration remains in effect.

Official Guidelines & Testing Information/Texas-Specific News Updates – The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is the state agency overseeing the state’s official response to the pandemic.  General guidance for the public, including symptoms and testing information can be found here. News updates can be found here, including case counts which are updated daily by Noon CDT.

Centers for Disease Control – The CDC maintains this situation summary on the pandemic and updates it as new information becomes available and has multiple general resources for broadcasters, including stock images for publication and informational videos.

Employees Can’t Work from Home? 5 Ways to Manage – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has prepared a checklist for small businesses whose employees can’t work from home during this time. Jacobs Media Strategies also offers this Digital Toolkit for Radio stations’ staff to work remotely.

Reporting Resources – Poynter has developed numerous resources for newsroom operations and reporting. RadioInk offers these 10 Commandments of Coronavirus Coverage.

EAS – Some stations expected the Emergency Alert System to be utilized for the President’s emergency declaration on Friday, but that announcement was issued to trigger release of federal disaster funds. We do not anticipate authorities will use EAS for any notices related to the pandemic but are monitoring developments on this front. At this time, we think the system code most likely to be activated for a quarantine message would be SPW (Shelter in Place Warning).

Mitigating Employment Law Risks for Pandemic – TAB’s federal legal counsel, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, has prepared this alert for stations to ensure infection control safeguards and telework requirements are executed properly.

Questions? Contact TAB’s Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944.

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