NPR to pilot alerts for people with hearing disabilities

By Mike Janssen

NPR will test a system for delivering emergency alerts to individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing in Gulf Coast states under a contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The project marks the first attempt to deliver real-time emergency messages such as weather alerts via radio-broadcast text to those with hearing disabilities. Through the Public Radio Satellite System, NPR will relay emergency alert messages received from FEMA via the Radio Broadcast Data System to public radio stations in the Gulf region. The stations will broadcast the alerts to receivers that are able to display text messages.

Volunteers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing will be alerted to the warnings by flashing indicators on their radios or by a bed-shaking device that can be triggered by radios.

NPR Labs, the technology research and development group of NPR, will work with DHS and FEMA to select 25 stations in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to participate in the pilot. Five hundred individuals in the stations’ listening areas will be recruited to participate, and will be surveyed to determine the efficacy of the warnings. The Gulf region was chosen because of the extreme and sudden weather conditions that often affect it.

After the test phase, NPR hopes to introduce the system nationwide on all public radio stations served by the PRSS, which reach 95 percent of the U.S. population.

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