If they don’t soon put their plans in reverse, car companies like Ford and Tesla will quickly make it significantly harder for emergency management officials to protect Florida when it faces natural disasters.
In the 21st century, where we are connected to our smartphones and computers almost all the time, it’s easy to lose sight of the critical role that the radio plays during emergencies. But during Hurricane Ian, Floridians received a chilling reminder of the radio’s importance when radio first responders rescued many stranded state residents. When the power went out, and they could not access any other communication means, AM radio delivered and kept them safe.
And this was far from an isolated occurrence. In a recent interview, former FEMA administrator Craig Fugate — a Florida resident — reminded these car companies that this is a tune that has played out repeatedly during the state’s storm season. In fact, during Hurricane Irma in 2017, Fugate lost all electricity, internet and cable and said, “The only way I could get any updates on what was happening was off the radio.”
Ultimate Media’s Paulo Dias described radio’s positive impact on Hurricane Irma rescue and recovery efforts this way: “Suddenly, people so dependent on digital devices were huddled around their radios, waiting for information on where to find fresh food and water.” Then, as cell service started getting restored, stations “played a role in allowing people in the Keys to call into the station to let their families know they were alive.”
Because the radio plays such a crucial role in keeping Americans safe and informed, some of FEMA’s top leaders — from James Lee Witt, former director under Bill Clinton to Peter Gaynor and Brock Long, former administrators under President Donald Trump — have called on car companies to keep them in their car dashes.
As a former member of Congress for Florida who served on the Committee on Science and Technology, I get it. Car makers, like many other American businesses today, have become passionate about integrating new innovations, such as streaming services, into their products, and they have seemingly written off some of the tried-and-true tech breakthroughs of years’ past — like the radio — as outdated and redundant in the process. But in radio’s case, nothing could be further from the truth. Not only does it remain the most important communication channel for keeping the public safe, but it also remains the most popular media platform by weekly audience reach.
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Sometimes, the more things change, the more they should stay the same. As they look to continue upgrading and modernizing their vehicles, companies like Ford and Tesla would be wise to take this advice. Upgrades, such as streaming services integration, should not come with accompanying downgrades that would worsen their consumers’ experiences and jeopardize their security.
Let’s learn from Florida’s recent natural disasters, not tune them out.
Tom Feeney is a former member of Congress from Florida.