Government red tape entangled volunteers creating a radio station for Katrina evacuees.
Uprooted by Hurricane Katrina, thousands of evacuees in the Houston Astrodome were desperate for any semblance of news, from information about locating loved ones to where to get food and immunizations. Adding to the confusion was a public address system emitting garbled messages.
To members of the independent media, the solution was simple: Build a radio station.
"Radio is the people's medium. It's cheap, effective and could reach the most people," said Tish Stringer, a Houston IndyMedia advocate and graduate student at Rice University.
Through Stringer and a dedicated group of volunteers, an emergency low-fi microradio station was born. Its audience: the thousands of displaced hurricane victims in the Astrodome.
The volunteers drew up a plan to get the low-power FM radio station set up, quickly landing a temporary license from the Federal Communications Commission along with donated equipment and nationwide support. KAMP - aka Dome City Radio - also had support from Houston's mayor's office and Texas Governor Rick Perry. But there was a sticking point: bureaucratic red tape from local and federal emergency management officials who cited "security concerns" as a main reason why the station could not go live.
After meetings, phone calls and waiting, media activists sidestepped the county officials who had initially nixed the project. KAMP 95.3 officially launched - but not before a full two weeks passed after Katrina rocked the Gulf Coast.
Two days after tens of thousands of evacuees flooded the Astrodome, Stringer began contacting people in the media world.
Stringer knew she had to act fast. For the evacuees, there was a pressing need for not only food and water, but basic information.
Volunteers from IndyMedia, a community based organization of alternative media organizers, were joined by people from Prometheus Radio Project, a nonprofit collective of radio activists who build and support community radio stations.
Members of the independent media, contacted by Stringer, wrote an application for a temporary broadcasting license, which FCC administrators pushed through in just two hours over Labor Day weekend. By Monday, Sept. 5, one week after Katrina hit, the group of volunteers had all the transmission equipment needed, letters of support from Houston City Council members and enough of a staff to effectively operate a low-fi radio station.
But county officials told the organizers that access issues and security concerns prevented them from broadcasting inside the Astrodome.
The initial request for space inside the Astrodome, filed by Jim Ellinger, a freelance radio consultant from Austin, asked for offices equipped with computers, laptops and telephone lines for the staff, said Gloria Roemer, a spokesperson for Harris County and for the Astrodome's Joint Information Center. The request, if approved, would also have granted the entire station's staff unlimited access to the facility, which Roemer outright denied, citing concerns about the privacy of evacuees.
"They wanted unlimited access to the buildings, which we could not give to anyone in the media," Roemer said."We could not accommodate their demands, so the request was denied."
Federal Emergency Management Agency officials also were concerned with how the station would be powered since electricity in the Astrodome was scarce, Roemer said. FEMA officials also said it would be impossible to allocate office space and other amenities to the …