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Congress: Listen to law enforcement and pass the AM for Every Vehicle Act

Our government built its public warning systems around AM radio because it’s the most reliable form of communication if disaster strikes

By Dr. Darrin Porcher

Every car carries numerous elements that can save your life. Automakers must install emergency brakes and airbags with that mission in mind. But many Americans overlook a life-saving measure right in their car console. Access to AM radio could make the difference in a life-or-death scenario. It’s also critical to our national security.

That is why Senators Ted Cruz and Ed Markey want to pass the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act in the coming weeks — to keep this necessary public safety device in place. As a former lieutenant for the New York City Police Department, I know that the public safety community is completely united in its desire to see this legislation become law.

Our government built its public warning systems around AM radio because it’s the most reliable form of communication if disaster strikes. TV, the internet and cellphones will often fail in bad conditions. Trying to get a signal in a terrible storm is often a hopeless task. But AM radio can withstand these conditions and deliver critical information to ordinary citizens.

The National Public Warning System and the Emergency Alert System are two of the most important systems this country has to convey knowledge in a disaster. These are the services people need to hear in a time of emergency. And in many cases, AM radio represents the only way the citizenry and the emergency response leaders seeking to help them can connect.

For example, after the horrific terrorist attack this nation faced on September 11, 2001, cell networks became rapidly overloaded, leading to massive crashes and outages. AM radio, however, was built to withstand such disasters, and to the relief of emergency management professionals, its reception remained wholly reliable throughout their rescue efforts.

Sheriff Shaun Goldstein who spearheaded the public safety response to Superstorm Sandy also recently detailed how over a million people tuned into AM radio in New Jersey and New York during any 15-minute period of the storm, while listenership spiked by over 250% in many areas because residents mired by the devastation had no power, cell service, or any other way to receive the news alerts they needed.

Despite AM radio being an essential need, some automakers want to remove them from their new vehicles. These companies include BMW, Mazda, Volvo, Volkswagen, Tesla and Ford. They claim electric motors interfere with the frequency of AM radio, thus making it too staticky. They are choosing to remove AM radio despite many of their competitors demonstrating how easy and cheap it is to fix this interference problem.

Some automakers have announced plans to remove AM radios from non-electric models where there is zero interference concerns. Which begs the question, why? Is this really more about moving to fully digital systems that allow driver and passenger data collection?

Thankfully, Senators Cruz and Markey and their colleagues are stepping in to stop this. The short-sighted move against AM radio not only jeopardizes the lives of American drivers, it also hinders America’s defense leaders’ ability to protect the homeland.

Federal officials are gravely worried about the possible threat of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on America. The Department of Homeland Security warned that such an attack “could disrupt critical infrastructure such as the electrical grid, communications equipment, water and wastewater systems, and transportation modes.” This would be devastating to the country and threaten countless numbers of lives. Other communications systems, according to federal officials, would not be as reliable as AM radio in such a situation.

That’s why DHS, along with FEMA and other federal agencies, have heavily tested AM radio to see how it would function in an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. FEMA has even invested in hardening AM radio stations against EMP threats. This form of communication has proven remarkably resilient, ensuring Americans can get the information they need to survive if the worst ever occurs.

Automakers want to scramble all this work just to save a few pennies. That’s why we need the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act to counteract the car industry’s misjudgment.

Every previous FEMA administrator from the Clinton administration through the Trump administration has endorsed Senators Cruz and Markey’s bill, as have state and local public safety officials and emergency responders, demonstrating just how necessary it is for this nation’s emergency response operations and preparedness.

Let’s not cloud the public safety community’s concerns with static. Let’s act on them before it’s too late.

About the author

Dr. Porcher, a former lieutenant with the New York City Police Department, is an adjunct professor of criminal justice at Pace University.