What if the nation is under attack by an enemy force, a major cyberattack, or other natural or technological disaster, and all power sources, communications, phone systems, and Internet go off-line? When the usual ability to learn more information about the event is cut off, and you want to know what to do to stay safe, where do you turn in such a circumstance?

That is where the nation’s Primary Entry Point (PEP) radio stations come into play. When the worst happens, it is critical to have hardened radio broadcast facilities to serve as the ultimate means to ensure the public can learn information about a nationwide emergency.

There are 77 PEP radio stations across the U.S. that reach 90 percent of the nation’s population in a national public warning network, including one in Seattle. PEP radio stations allow the President of the United States to address the nation and provide information before, during and after the unfolding disaster.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with funding from Congress dedicated the PEP facility modernization on Vashon Island on Friday, November 19th. Officials from Bonneville International, emergency management organizations, and other broadcast and engineering groups attended the dedication, the 14th PEP facility to be modernized.

All broadcasters including TV, radio and cable systems monitor the Seattle PEP radio, and if able to remain on air during and following the disaster, will air emergency Presidential addresses, and that includes the radio stations in the North Sound such as KRKO and KXA radio in Snohomish County.

The modernized PEP site involves a totally hardened and independent facility against any kind of attack or disaster. The site includes two individual module structures with broadcast equipment, sleeping and bath facilities, redundant communications, backup power sources and fuel, and much more. This facility is designed to be on air 24/7 and house staff to provide critical life safety information if the worst kind of disaster occurs and all else fails.

The radio station transmitter site on Vashon Island was actually completed 80 years ago just before World War 2, the first of its 50,000 watt transmitter power facility kind west of Salt Lake City. When the U.S. war effort began, the military realized it needed to have radio broadcasters survive the worst and stay on air to provide critical information to the public, and the concept of Primary Entry Point (PEP) stations was born.

The nationwide network of PEP stations grew as the nation moved into the Cold War era of the 1950s and early 1960s. There have been two times when use of the PEP network was close to being put into action, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and 9-11. Today, the PEP network is part of the Emergency Alert System (EAS).

Radio is the backbone of information and entertainment communication. 80 percent of people listen to radio, despite all the other media alternatives. When a major disaster strikes, radio provides and shares critical life safety information to the communities they serve, particularly when a natural or technological disaster unfolds like a major earthquake or even an electromagnetic pulse (EMP).

Radio is a part of all emergency kits for home, work, schools, health care facilities, senior centers, cars, places of worship and more. Radio options include those powered by batteries or even wind-up models. NOAA Weather Radio all-hazards receivers are also an excellent option since they receive not only site-specific weather warning information, but also warning information from national, state and local emergency officials – a life-saver for the cost of a pair of shoes. There are also models with AM and FM radio. With the holidays just weeks away, a NOAA Weather Radio can make a great holiday gift for those you care about.

So when the worst happens and all power, phones and communications are offline, radio is the lifeline of critical information. Knowing that a PEP is in the North Sound backyard, there is a sense of comfort and calm that there will be a key information source before, during and after a national emergency.

North Sound Meteorologist Ted Buehner worked more than 40 years for the National Weather Service (NWS) from 1977 to 2018. He is now an Everett Post Media team member. Together with Everett Post Weather Minute Podcasts, he provides morning and afternoon commute traffic and weather updates on both KRKO and KXA Radio, and sports reporting on KRKO.