Tennessee stations to launch first statewide emergency datacasting initiative

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Six Tennessee public television stations will use a $2 million grant to pilot a datacasting project for first responders that could serve as a template for other states.

It’s the first statewide emergency datacasting initiative in the nation, according to a Thursday announcement.

The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security will provide funding to the Tennessee Public Television Council. Stations will use part of their spectrum to deliver encrypted videos, files, alerts and other data to officials during emergencies and natural disasters.

The stations taking part in the project are WKNO, Memphis; WLJT, Lexington; WNPT, Nashville; WCTE, Cookeville; East Tennessee PBS, Knoxville; and WTCI, Chattanooga. Datacasting will be operational at all stations within six months.

WCTE President Becky Magura told Current that for many viewers in that area, “WCTE is their only television station, and we have a great relationship with our EMS partners and first responders for the whole region.”

Magura said the station previously worked with Putnam County to place a second tower on its transmitter site for emergency services communication and monitoring for a 14-county region. A WCTE studio is also linked to the county and the city of Cookeville to provide emergency information during a disaster.

“We have wanted to enter the datacasting world for first responders but knew it would be cost-prohibitive for our region and less effective without a statewide initiative,” she said.

The datacasting collaboration between the Tennessee Department of Safety and the public television council “is ideal because all six public television stations in the state are interconnected, have tall broadcast towers, backup generator power, 24-hour operations, and the spectrum available to make this project a reality,” said WKNO President Michael LaBonia, project director.

“We hope the State of Tennessee’s groundbreaking grant to Tennessee public television stations to build a statewide emergency communications network founded on this datacasting technology will serve as a model for other statewide collaborations between public television and the public safety community throughout America,” said America’s Public Television Stations President Patrick Butler.

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