Disaster Radio


Three years ago, Hurricane Katrina made landfall at 7am and all hell broke loose on the Gulf Coast. It was a time when my radio and my laptop were the only real lifelines I had to my rapidly submerging home. Both then and upon my return to the Crescent City six weeks later, I found broadcast to be my lifeline.

Television reporting on the situation was extensive, but composed of short pieces in continuous rotation. It was radio I went to for in depth coverage and commentary.

This past May, the people of Myanmar suffered their own storm, one vastly worse than Katrina. It killed nearly 140,000 people as its Category 4 winds whipped across the land. Cyclone Nagris.

Despite concerns that the government controlled radio station, Naypyidaw Myanmar Radio, did not warn the people adequately of the oncoming cyclone, the population still relies on radio for a day to day lifeline. Listening to the weather report has become a daily ritual.

This is something that we on the Gulf Coast have in common with Myanmar: the reliance on an inexpensive device that pulls content from thin air. No subscription fees. No need for Internet infrastructure. Just a handheld device sharing info that could mean the difference between life and death for one’s family.

Via IRIN News:

Tint Naing, a driver from Daedayal Township, told IRIN radio was cheap and convenient, and required no more than a few batteries. […]

Some also sees radio as a more objective source of information: “I like to listen to both state-owned and foreign [Burmese programme] radios like BBC and VOA (Voice of America),” said Lwin Maung, a 32-year old fisherman in Kunchangone who often tunes into the latter’s regular Burmese broadcasts.

“I want to compare,” said another resident, who regularly listens to the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) , which is broadcast from Norway and is largely critical of Myanmar’s military-led government.

This simultaneously illustrates both the reach of radio and the importance of reliable and accurate reporting on the airwaves. In a place like Myanmar where poverty ad illiteracy are rampant, where a simple newspaper (If available) can cost up to 1/30 of a family’s monthly income, access to radio is of vital importance.

As I continue to watch the paths of Hurricane Gustav and Tropical Storm Hanna, this aspect of the medium is very much on my mind. Three years ago I had to rely on radio for info from the ground while my home was under five feet of water from the levee failure. As I continue prepare for the possibility of evacuation, the thing I find most important is my pair of radios, a battery powered AM/FM box and a hand crank powered weather radio.

Whether I stay to ride it out or flee with my family, I can guarantee that I will be monitoring broadcast more than any other medium.

Photo courtesy of Dina Midden, used under its Creative Commons license


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