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Making a Difference: Protecting Kentucky

KET’s transmission towers carry more than television programs

KET’s transmission network — the same system of transmitters and towers that deliver the latest Masterpiece drama, Nature documentary and Daniel Tiger episode to your home — plays another important role in serving Kentuckians.

It’s part of a state and national public safety grid that plays a critical role ensuring that weather officials, first responders and law enforcement agencies maintain communications, especially when disaster strikes.

Consider the ice storm that crippled much of Kentucky in 2009, leaving more than a half-million without power. Phone lines and cell towers went dark, but emergency officials were able to communicate critical information thanks to KET’s network infrastructure.

“The best warning system is one that works in multiple ways—and KET’s transmission network is part of the backbone of our communications with the general public,” says Joe Sullivan, the National Weather Service’s warning coordination meteorologist in Louisville. “If power is lost to the cell towers, for instance, our information still gets to where it needs to go because of this backup system. And it saves lives.”

The KET network uses a vast array of microwave radio links and broadcast transmitters to deliver KET’s four channels to the entire Commonwealth and into parts of the seven surrounding states. If you have TV service from a cable or satellite company, your provider receives KET’s signal from this broadcast transmission network, and then delivers it to your home. If you receive TV over-the-air through an antenna, your KET channels come directly from the KET broadcast network.

This same network of 16 transmitters and 15 towers, located across the commonwealth, also house local, state and federal agencies’ communications systems. Each site is backed up with emergency generators and can run for up to 72 hours after loss of commercial power. With fuel deliveries, KET’s transmission sites can remain powered indefinitely, providing critical communication support in the event of an emergency.

This infrastructure helps KET partner with and support a wide variety of agencies, including Kentucky Emergency Warning System, Kentucky National Guard, Kentucky State Police, Kentucky Department of Transportation, Kentucky Division of Forestry, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

“The best warning system is one that works in multiple ways — and KET’s transmission network is part of the backbone of our communications with the general public.”

Joe Sullivan, National Weather Service’s warning coordination meteorologist in Louisville

The KET network also supports NOAA’s National Weather Service with 13 NOAA weather transmitters on KET towers. These 100- to 1,000-foot towers — much taller than regional radio or cell-phone towers — serve as a well-distributed statewide communications system to alert the public of weather and other emergencies. KET’s statewide transmissions network offers efficiencies, often eliminating the need for other agencies to construct their own towers.

“The cost to build out a backup system for emergency communications from scratch would be astronomical,” says Dana Golub, a vice-president and director of PBS WARN, the backup network for nationwide wireless emergency alerting, which is broadcast throughout Kentucky by KET’s transmission system. “The federal government’s investments to leverage the existing infrastructure of public television was a no brainer because our network already reaches 95 percent of the country.”

KET transmission sites also host equipment used by the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. And many KET sites are used by local agencies for communications, including sheriffs’ departments and local emergency management.

As part of the federal government’s Emergency Alert System, KET is ready to serve. In the event of a national emergency, a special receiver located in KET’s network center, would override broadcasts to deliver vital information to the public. It’s tested weekly, and the federal government conducts nationwide tests periodically.