Leadership project focuses on emergency news flow

Wade McIntyre
Ascension Parish Homeland Security/OEP Director Rick Webre records a taped message at the Parish Courthouse on Irma Boulevard Tuesday that will be broadcast to TV stations in event of emergency. The broadcast set is a project of an 8-member Ascension Leadership team which determined that a central location for emergency broadcasts in the parish was needed.

It took about 45 seconds.

Homeland Security/OEP Director Rick Webre gave an emergency test statement, and the new Ascension Parish Joint Information Center was officially ready for the start of hurricane season, June 1.

The center, a project of eight members of the Ascension Leadership Class of 2010, provides a portable, quickly assembled media setting to broadcast emergency messages to the public.

It was set up Friday in the executive conference room next to the Parish Council chambers in the courthouse on Irma Boulevard, in order that Webre could tape a message to be broadcast on all TV stations in the parish.

One of the goals of the Ascension Leadership project, according to team member Dan Wanko, is to make parish media more helpful in emergencies by enabling parish news and information to be consolidated and less dependent on media reporting from outside the parish.

Team members chose the project after determining that it would have a long life on its own after introduction by Ascension Leadership. They conferred with OEP about the viability of the  project, and were able to obtain grant funding.

“We identified it as a need and gave them (Leadership Ascension) a concept, and they worked out the technical data on their own,” Webre said.

When Webre’s broadcast is transmitted, parish government will break into local stations with an E-911 override that says, “Please tune to Channel 21 for an emergency broadcast.”

Hurricane Gustav revealed how much Ascension Parish needed the broadcast setup because the parish was without electrical power for so long, Webre said. With the new setting, and generator power, emergency news events can be easily broadcast and all types of media can meet in one central location for dissemination of information.

The center is modeled after one Baton Rouge and will go on line May 30, two days before hurricane season. It easily breaks down within minutes and can be stored in a small bag or carrying case.