Opinion: Automakers, don't remove radios from the dashboard
Make no mistake about it: The renaissance of electric vehicle manufacturing has been one of the most significant blessings of innovation in the 21st century. The continued production and voluntary adoption of electric vehicles have made the United States a greener and cleaner nation. However, while EV makers continue working to bring the U.S. forward environmentally, they need to ensure their design methods do not have a negative impact on one of the country’s most crucial national security apparatuses.
As the former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that oversaw the operations of over 220 declared disasters, I am concerned about what I’ve seen from automakers removing AM radios from vehicles — an action that will make Americans less safe in emergency situations.
Interference between the broadcast reception and the electric motors of certain cars, principally electric vehicles, is the reasoning behind some companies’ decision to eliminate the radio from car dashboards. However, scrapping radio rather than making the signals compatible can severely harm the federal government’s disaster relief efforts.
Federal law mandates that FEMA always possess the capabilities to deliver messages to the American people. To this end, FEMA has spent tens of million dollars and counting perfecting the Primary Entry Point (PEP) stations — consisting mostly of AM stations, but some FM ones as well — that connect to The National Public Warning System.
Ninety-five percent of American households own a car. They need to be made aware of breaking threats, hazards and alerts while they are traveling. Beyond that, though, the American people need a connection that can withstand even the worst of natural disasters. The National Public Warning System achieves both objectives.
Thanks to over $100 million in investments from FEMA, these stations now have backup infrastructures and emergency power generators that allow continued broadcasts during even the height of the worst of disasters. No other means of electronic communications in the country is as efficient or reliable as the radio. In fact, presently, these broadcasts are the only method the government has to reach every point in the country.
The utility of radios during emergencies has been incalculable. Just ask the Michigan residents victimized by the 2012 Dexter tornado, the Grand Rapids flood of 2013, and the Great Flood of 1986 how critical radio broadcasts were in remaining informed and safe during these natural disasters.
But the significant role radio has played during emergencies does not stop there.
For example, during 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, station managers slept on the floor of their offices for days. Texans depended on them to learn about the recovery teams the government sent to differing locations, as well as announcements about shelters, water recession levels, and other critical pieces of public safety information.
During Hurricane Sandy, more than a million people in the New Jersey-New York area were listening to the radio during any 15-minute period.
The bottom line is that, while power can knock out television and the Internet, the American people’s emergency radio signals almost always remain as strong as ever.
FEMA recognizes the importance of preserving and strengthening the signal of broadcast stations. Recently, the Agency added even more backup facilities, costing $1.5 million apiece, along with more stations. Nevertheless, the full benefits of these tens of millions of dollars in federal internal improvements will never be realized should automakers continue to strip radios from more of their new makes and models.
Just as boats and planes need to carry life vests, so do cars need to carry radios. Taking them out puts consumers at risk, plain and simple.
Here’s hoping that auto manufacturers begin to obtain more clarity on the importance of radio and recognize that they are more than a tool for public entertainment. The success of future governmental disaster relief efforts will depend on it.
Brock Long formerly served as administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He is an American emergency manager and executive chairman at Hagerty Consulting.