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March 14, 2013
Dennis Wharton
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Testimony of Diane Kniowski at Emergency Communications Meeting

WASHINGTON, DC -- Diane Kniowski, president and general manager of LIN-owned WOOD TV, WOTV and WXSP in Battle Creek, MI, testified at the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology hearing on "Oversight of FirstNet and Emergency Communications" on March 14.

Below is a transcript of her testimony as prepared for delivery.

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Good morning Chairman Walden, Ranking Member Eshoo and Members of the subcommittee. My name is Diane Kniowski and I am the vice president and general manager of three television stations owned by LIN Media in Western Michigan - WOOD TV, WOTV and WXSP.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today about the valuable, often life-saving services that local radio and television broadcasters provide during disasters and other weather emergencies.

At our core, broadcasters are "first informers" and for decades, have been the most important source of vital emergency information for all Americans.

When a tornado rips through Missouri or an earthquake shakes California, listeners and viewers turn to their local broadcasters for news and information. When the power goes out, when phone service and the Internet may go down, broadcasters are there and on the air.

I've seen it personally in Michigan. In February 2011, a major blizzard dropped up to 25 inches of snow in a 24 hour period. We knew it was coming, so we went into action. Three days prior to the storm, we began alerting the public on what areas would be hit and what essentials were needed in the home. We sent teams into the field, keeping abreast of what was happening. We stayed on the air for three to four days until the roads were cleared and we knew there was no loss of life. I still remember the many letters we received from viewers, thanking us.

And stations around the country do the same thing. For example, during Hurricane Sandy, WABC-TV in New York prepared in advance for the storm. They shored up its infrastructure, inspecting and securing rooftop and tower antennas, and testing backup transmission paths.

On the radio side, the engineering team at Clear Channel's radio stations moved back-up generators and reserve transmitters into the area. They implemented long-standing fuel contracts, and gathered satellite phones and mobile housing for staff. As the storm knocked out other means of communication in many parts of the tri-state area for nearly a week, broadcasters were ready for the storm's fallout.

For decades, radio and television broadcasters have been the backbone of the nation's Emergency Alert System, known as "EAS". EAS is a national public warning network that connects public safety authorities to the public through over-the-air radio and television stations and cable systems with the simple push of a button.

In addition to alerting the public of local weather emergencies such as tornadoes and flash floods, EAS is designed to allow the President to speak to the United States within 10 minutes.

The EAS system works through a chain reaction of alerting that begins at the broadcast radio level. For example, WTOP here in DC is a primary station that other broadcast stations and cable systems monitor for local alerts.

All EAS participants are required to maintain FCC-certified EAS equipment that continuously monitors the signals of at least two nearby sources for EAS messages. Broadcasters work in partnership with state, county and local emergency managers and public safety officials on how best to deploy EAS in each state.

Although EAS can be triggered by the President, and state or local authorities under certain conditions, the majority of alerts are originated by local emergency managers and the National Weather Service.

The EAS is also used for AMBER Alerts. This was created by broadcasters and local law enforcement in Texas in 1996. To date, over 600 abducted children have been successfully recovered. At my station, we routinely put out these alerts with success. This is one of the most gratifying parts of my job as a broadcaster.

Clearly, EAS participation is an important component of our public service and broadcasters are proud of our pivotal role. Although participation in EAS on the local level is technically voluntary, virtually every radio and television station in the country participates, and we do so enthusiastically. All EAS equipment is purchased by broadcasters at their own expense, and all stations must test their EAS systems on a weekly and monthly basis.

At my station, we also conduct surprise emergency rehearsals four times per year. Rehearsals help identify issues.

In November 2011, FEMA and the FCC conducted the first-ever nationwide EAS test. The purpose of the test was diagnostic and included participation from every radio and television station in the United States.

The test was successful and served its purpose of finding where any technical problems may exist. The issues that were discovered are being addressed, which is precisely why we fully support testing the EAS on a regular basis.

I am grateful for the opportunity to share my views on broadcast emergency communications and I look forward to working with you toward our shared goal of keeping the American people safe through timely alerts and warnings. Thank you.

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