USA– It’s a low-powered radio station operated by volunteers, but when fire, earthquake or other calamity strikes, Idyllwild’s WNKI is allowed to bump up its broadcast signal to keep San Jacinto Mountains listeners up to date with the latest news from emergency responders.
In the absence of emergencies, operators of the volunteer-run station and a mountain emergency services group have an event planned today to remind the San Jacinto Mountains community of the service.
“We’re just really trying to bring awareness because of the upgrade,” said Gina McGough, Riverside County Fire Department emergency coordinator, said by phone.
Between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., there will be a test of the station’s emergency radio broadcast capabilities every hour on the hour.
Organizers want listeners to either send an e-mail email@example.com with their location and how clear the radio signal is, or call WNKI volunteers during those hours at 951-659-5029 to report in.
Several years ago, the station received a $10,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant through Riverside County to buy an upgraded 100-watt transmitter antenna.
“What we’re trying to do is since we’ve got greater capacity we want to inform people,” said Bob McCullough, volunteer station manager.
While Valle Vista residents might be able to hear the test, emergency services personnel are most interested in signal strength in Alandale and Pine Cove on Highway 243 and how far out Highway 74 in Garner Valley.
The station by law operates at 10 watts daily to broadcast recorded weather and tourist information. McCullough said if a public safety official declares an emergency, the power can be doubled, with a 10- to 12- mile radius to convey emergency messages.
“The problem is people are pretty complacent until there is a problem,” said McCullough. Volunteers update the weather recording daily before the station goes on the air at 8 a.m.
“We average about 13 of those events a year for the last 10 years,” McCullough said, most recently for the Cottonwood wildland fire in late August.
“With the Cottonwood fire, we were on the air continuously from 17 minutes after the fire started until the fire was out,” he said. The fire off Highway 74 between Hemet and Mountain Center burned more than 2,200 acres.
“People were pretty nervous,” he said. “As the crow flies, it was less than 2½ miles from downtown Idyllwild.” If there had been a need, the county has a reverse 911 calling service to alert residents.
The test today is under the auspices of the Mountain Area Safety Taskforce , a coalition of government agencies, private companies and volunteer groups that work together to help prevent catastrophic wildfires.