New emergency billboards debut around Houston in advance of hurricane season

HOUSTON At a news conference Monday at Houston Transtar headquarters, emergency management leaders unveiled a total of 15 digital billboards in four counties with the purpose of telling people what to do in an emergency, and they can be updated in real time.

It's called the Gulf Coast Emergency Communications Network. During a major emergency like a hurricane, having a way to reach the public is critical to local government. It's a lesson learned during Hurricane Ike when 4.5 million people lost power after the storm came ashore at 2:10am in September 2008.

In a scenario like that one, residents driving around town before and after the storm would now see digital signs like these run by Clear Channel, giving them up-to-date information about the storm, access to their homes, and other vital information. That information will come from the offices of emergency management in Harris, Galveston, Fort Bend and Brazoria counties.

The digital billboards operate via satellite, and within minutes of contacting Clear Channel, county leaders can tell their residents exactly what they need to know.

"If the message needs to go out to the public based on the type of event we're facing, a hurricane in the Gulf, and we need to prepare this message to the public, I would then authorize that through the system based on the code that we have so that Clear Channel understands it's an accurate message from the local emergency management, so that would be posted to the boards within our jurisdiction," said Mark Sloan, Harris Co. Emergency Management Coordinator.

Eleven of the billboards are up already with four more being added this month just in time for hurricane season.

This is all done free of charge by Clear Channel which runs advertising on the billboards when they're not being used for emergency announcements. Emergency leaders estimate they can reach 260,000 people using these signs.

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