Bainbridge Island, WA: Preparing for “But When”

Bill Baker, Owner Information Station Specialist

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, WA: Just a stone’s throw across the water from Seattle, Bainbridge Islanders are fully cognizant that when it all goes south someday, help may be a very long time in coming. The community’s emergency preparedness webpage advises, “…make sure you are ready to survive two weeks or more without outside help.”

A single ferry route – the Winslow Ferry – and one two-lane highway bridge tenuously link Bainbridge Island to the mainland. It is just a matter of time before an incident such as a storm or an earthquake/tsunami isolate the Island’s 25,000 residents and make an orderly response – and especially an evacuation – challenging.

The community originally considered obtaining a low power FM station as a means of emergency communication. But issues with partial coverage and inflexible content rules rendered the plan impractical. In addition, FM antennas, which must be positioned high above the ground on towers, are especially vulnerable to high winds and seismic events. 

It was during that investigation that island leaders learned of the ready availability of local AM channels for an Information Radio service. AM’s relatively long wavelengths made total island coverage possible and, because AM antennas are mounted nearer to the ground, their vulnerability profile is substantially minimized. The City of Bainbridge Island petitioned the FCC for a waiver of signal intensity and received its grant in 2017. The community anticipates commencing the construction phase this spring.

In the words of Emergency Management Coordinator Anne LeSage, “The AM radio will serve as a means to provide effective emergency communication to residents and visitors on the island. During an emergency, we will broadcast evacuation orders, road closures, power outage information and other critical updates.”

Editor’s Note

Both Lincoln County EMA and Waldo County EMA are in the process of implementing projects to install and operate their own AM “Emergency Advisory Radio Systems”.  It is hoped that during a severe emergency, especially if there is a loss of internet and power, these two County EMA offices will continue to have the ability to provide emergency information to the public. Most people have an AM/FM radio, whether in their car or their home and most are powered with alkaline batteries or hand crank rechargeable batteries. 

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