How successfully Lakewood residents respond in the days and weeks after a major disaster depends in large part on how well they stay informed. By harnessing the web, radio, and cable television, Lakewood is prepared to get important disaster relief messages to the community in the aftermath of a major catastrophe.
Both KLWD 1620 AM emergency radio broadcast system and CityTV cable channel 31 have plans to stay on the air following a catastrophe or to be brought back on air quickly. Both are part of getting Lakewood-specific public information to residents. The city's website is housed on computers located outside Southern California, and Lakewood Online is expected to be up and running after a local emergency.
The citywide emergency information radio service will broadcast Lakewood-specific information directly to residents following a crisis. Anyone who has a car or a battery-powered radio, made after 1990, will be able to monitor 1620 AM, even if all electrical power is out.
The station's transmitter is small and tough and in a protected facility supplied with backup power. City staff are trained to get 1620 AM up and running immediately after a disaster.
“Any disaster of a magnitude requiring emergency communications will likely be severe enough to impact electricity, phone and cell service, and cable television. That’s why KLWD 1620 AM is so important in the first seven days following a major disaster. KLWD is the most resilient information service we have. More importantly, it’s accessible to residents from car radios, crank and battery powered radios. Everyone should have at least one battery or crank powered radio in their home emergency kit,” says city Public Information Officer Bill Grady.
The radio system has an everyday purpose, too. Lakewood's radio service is on the air daily via automated systems airing a changing menu of information about recreation programs and access to city services.
"Until a disaster, think of 1620 AM as the city service guide on radio," Grady suggests. "You can tune in for a reminder on trash collection standards or the timing of street sweeping. You could also learn how to schedule a picnic shelter at a city park.
"If you wanted to know about destinations in Lakewood, like The Centre at Sycamore Plaza, Lakewood radio will tell you. In an emergency, we’ll be able to go live with timely information or record special programs for broadcast."
The Northridge earthquake taught Southern California cities that regional news media couldn’t handle the volume or specificity of information residents needed in the days and weeks following a disaster. Similar experiences were had in hurricane battered areas. Most news had a regional focus and was never intended to address the needs of an individual community.
Following the Northridge quake Burbank's city hall switchboard was flooded with phone calls about the need to boil contaminated water. It had been widely reported by the news media after the earthquake. But, that report only applied to a limited area and not Burbank.
Burbank city officials were never able to get the regional news media to revise their story on water conditions, and thousands of Burbank residents needlessly worried about the safety of their drinking water.
Lakewood officials expect to overcome this type of issue by using resources like KLWD 1620 AM.
Running at just ten watts of broadcast power hardly seem like much – the average light bulb glows with 250 watts. Still, ten watts are enough for 1620 AM to reach all 9.5 square miles of Lakewood.
Take note of the blue-and-white signs on streetlight poles citywide and at the entrances to the city: "Lakewood info Tune radio to 1620 AM." The message is to tune one car radio preset to the city's radio low-power system.