When a blizzard earlier this month trapped Senator Tim Kaine (D, Va.) along with thousands of other drivers on Interstate 95 for more than a day, it was SiriusXM’s “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” channel that helped him stay awake and weather the 27-hour ordeal (along with a single orange and bottle of Dr. Pepper).
While the longtime lawmaker listening to classic rock deep cuts on a frigid Virginia highway made for a fun detail in national news stories recounting the blizzard-induced traffic jam, it’s not the first time SiriusXM has been a lifeline in an emergency. Helping promote and ensure public safety through our innovative satellite technology and assisting the U.S. government in times of need has been a priority for more than two decades.
Consider the 2017 hurricane season when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. The worst storm to hit the island in nearly a century, Maria was estimated to have caused nearly $100 billion in damages to the Commonwealth. The storm wreaked havoc across an island that was already dealing with no electricity and other essential service disruptions caused by Hurricane Irma a few weeks beforehand.
One of the biggest challenges facing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other first responders was communicating with the people across Puerto Rico, many of whom had no access to power. That’s when SiriusXM stepped into the breach, utilizing its unique technologies and satellite radio system to reopen the lines of communication and provide an information lifeline to those who needed it. Working with FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Program Management Office, SiriusXM was able to distribute 600 battery-powered satellite radios to those in hurricane-stricken regions of the island. The radios received free live programming from Univision’s San Juan radio station WKAQ – a FEMA National Public Warning System station – to further assist hurricane victims.
As SiriusXM’s Senior Vice President of Enterprise Operations John Archer recounts, SiriusXM’s actions in Puerto Rico were part of a long-standing commitment by the company to step up aggressively in times of need.
“We as a company decided early on that we would make a commitment to public safety and making sure people have the information they need in times of crisis. That’s part of our core DNA at all levels, from the executive level on down, and something we’re proud of,” said Archer.
In fact, for nearly two decades SiriusXM has been helping FEMA and other federal, state and local officials to provide critical public services in emergencies and natural disasters. From volunteering to help following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, to making The Weather Channel free to all via satellite radios during domestic weather disasters, including Hurricanes Florence, Harvey and Irma, there’s a reason SiriusXM has been recognized by FEMA as a “Valued Partner.”
Archer says the intentional decision to be a source of strength and assistance in times of need came to the company naturally. As a critical part of the national emergency alert network, SiriusXM is well-positioned to provide time sensitive public safety information, weather forecasts, vital news, and other life-saving information via its nationwide satellite radio service. Regardless of whether a listener is in an urban or rural part of the country, or is unable to access the internet, SiriusXM’s satellite radio network can reach them and the satellite network can operate even when telephones and cellphone networks are disabled by a storm or other disaster. More than 100 million vehicles on the road are equipped with SiriusXM radios and we frequently make emergency public safety information “free to air” so that it can reach anyone with radio, subscriber or not. This goes beyond weather emergencies, such as the free to all “Coronavirus: What You Need to Know” channel we launched in early March 2020 with NYU Langone dedicated to providing the latest information on the coronavirus outbreak.
And we are continually developing new resources and programming to assist consumers. This unique and resilient network can be a powerful resource, not just for news and information, but also as an outlet for government and safety officials seeking to address the public.
SiriusXM’s role as an emergency response participant to the federal government extends from the White House situation room to the capability of working with local radio stations around the country. While every U.S. broadcaster is required under its license from the FCC to be able to broadcast alerts from the Emergency Alert System, SiriusXM’s role is more substantive. The company serves as one of a limited number of non-broadcast entities designated by the government as Primary Entry Point (PEP) stations that can be used to directly broadcast the Emergency Alert Network’s Presidential Message to radio stations and other receivers in the event that terrestrial communication systems are disrupted or compromised.
Our role assisting the federal government also includes advising on the evolution and advancement of the Emergency Alert System. Mr. Archer served on the FEMA NAC Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Subcommittee comprised of 35 members from all levels of government across many different agencies, territorial organizations, tribal organizations, people with disabilities, access and functional needs, and private-sector leaders in communication industries.
The Company also continues to invest in infrastructure and new technology in its Washington D.C. headquarters, including installing a new antenna to strengthen its ability to provide emergency alert announcements and ensure continued service of critical messages. Just this month, the company also finalized plans for yet another aspect of our EAS-related public service to assist a group of terrestrial radio stations in Southern California in receiving emergency alert announcements and weekly emergency alert tests. The stations have never been part of the emergency alert network since they are outside the range of other radio stations and were not able to receive emergency announcements until now, through our satellite radio technology.
“The time to plan for the next natural disaster or emergency is now, which is why we are investing and really trying to provide assistance on these issues,” Archer said. “The ability for officials and citizens to have accurate information and situational awareness is critical for response decisions and understanding an evolving crisis, and SiriusXM is proud to facilitate that.”