THE CGC COMMUNICATOR

                            CGC #395

                     Wednesday, June 7, 2000

                 Robert F. Gonsett, W6VR, Editor

     Copyright 2000, Communications General Corporation (CGC)



  Veteran KABC-TV news reporter Adrienne Alpert was severely
burned when the mast on her electronic news gathering ("ENG")
van contacted high voltage overhead power lines, see CGC #393.
The remarks which follow are the authors' own and do not
necessarily reflect the views of their employers.  Both
authors expressed extreme sympathy toward Adrienne who is
still hospitalized.

  For an update on her condition (she just underwent another
amputation and requires assistance from a respirator), see:




  Re the ENG/RPU safety tips in CGC #393, keep in mind that
attempting to increase safety in one area may SERIOUSLY DEGRADE
it in another.  Think through all the "what ifs" before
installing any device intended to improve safety; good intentions
can easily backfire with deadly consequences.

  For example, interlocking the mast and ignition, transmission,
etc., is VERY dangerous.  The two new (not ENG Corp.) vans we
obtained last year were wired to kill the ignition if ANY of the
following conditions existed: mast up, satellite dish up, left
jack down, right jack down.  Problem is, these conditions could
falsely exist with dirty microswitches or vehicle vibrations.
Go over a bump and the bounce trips the switch and kills the
ignition.  Visualize a crew coming down Big Bear mountain and
having their ignition killed by a wet or flaky microswitch right
in the middle of one of those big sweeping turns -  they lose
the power steering and power brakes!  Our station rewired those
vehicles before releasing them for field use.

  There are MANY situations where a crew needs to run their
vehicle engine while the mast is up, and the truck parked.
There are EMERGENCY situations where a crew MUST move its vehicle
while the mast is dropping - dangerous, but sometimes necessary
in a hasty retreat.  Think about the conditions a crew faces in
an ever-changing brushfire, or riot situation.  These,
unfortunately, are very much a part of the news gathering
business.  Crews must be able to do unusual things with their
equipment when unusual circumstances exist.  Don't tie the
crew's hands; train them to make the correct decisions in
those emergencies.

  Our ENG vans use "mast-up detectors" as their primary
safety system.  The mast-up detector is an air pressure switch
in our old masts, and an internal magnet switch in the newer
Will-Burt masts (the switch will trip even if the mast is only
part way up).  The switch drives a mast-up alarm, mostly as
supplied by ENG Corp.  The older models simply run bright
flashing lights on the dash if the ignition is on and the mast
is up.  In the newer models, the lights flash only if the mast
is up and the transmission is taken out of the park position
(so you can't even push or coast the vehicle without the alarm
showing).  The newest models have a horrid loud klaxon in
addition to the flashing lights.  You will not drive off without
knowing that the mast is up, and a flakey microswitch will not
run you off the road.

  It has become clear to me, through years of experience with
news gathering vehicles, that regardless of the technical design
of an ENG/RPU system, the crew should be forced to exit their
vehicle to raise the mast.  Only then will they have a clear and
unobstructed view of the situation overhead.

  Some manufacturers tout their toggle switch mast raise/lower
controls - nice, but short sighted.  The more switches, relays,
solenoids and valves, the less reliable the system.  A plain
manual lever valve is simple, inexpensive, and least likely to
strand you with the mast stuck up, or down.  The simple ENG Corp.
/Will-Burt design has worked extremely well for us for a decade

  To HELP prevent masts from coming in contact with high
voltage lines, I strongly recommend the AC field detector
approach.  Our station does not have any at this time, but that
may well change in light of the Alpert accident.   The important
point is to think through how you are going to implement any new
device so it doesn't compromise safety in other respects.

  In the Alpert case, the crew should have been trained in
handling a mast-to-power line contact, just as police are trained
to deal with deadly force.  The decision of whether to remain
inside a van or bail out should not be contemplated for the first
time when contact occurs, and if a bailout is needed it must be
done properly (this is not to say that Alpert and crew did not
receive this training, my comments are only to underscore the
need for such training).

  Safety - A Shared Responsibility

  Safety is ALWAYS the crew's responsibility, but a
responsibility that must be SHARED by station management.  The
crew MUST have the proper tools: Adequate SAFETY DEVICES must
exist and be checked regularly.  And PROPER SAFETY TRAINING must
be provided regularly too, just as it is for an airline crew.
Then and only then can the workers be responsible for doing
their jobs safely.

  Safety devices back up trained humans, and trained humans
back up safety devices.  When you have both components, you
have an interlocking, synergistic system that works.

  Robin Critchell



  I've spoken with folks "on the inside" at KABC-TV where
Adrienne Alpert works.  There are a lot of unanswered questions
on her accident, and multiple versions of the details of what
happened, and why.

  Of course it's understandable that we want to put safety
measures in place right away so that something so tragic will
not, or cannot happen again, at least in the same way.  It's for
that reason that many engineers and technicians are coming up
with all sorts of schemes to prevent this type of accident.  But,
before we over-engineer our professional practices and procedures,
perhaps it is wise to sort out some basic questions.

  I'd like to ask some questions about the composition of
the ENG crew.  Is the "one-man band" ENG crew basically unsafe?
Is it unsafe some times, and safe on other occasions?  Who
determines when it's safe and when it isn't?  There are similar
concerns about transmitter engineers who work alone in rather
dangerous areas.  Is there a relationship between accidents in
our industry and financial cutbacks?  The picture may indeed be
larger than we realize.

  Rick Fearns



  The CGC Communicator is published for broadcast professionals
  in so. California by Communications General Corporation (CGC),
  consulting radio engineers, Fallbrook, CA.  Short news items
  without attached files are always welcome from our readers;
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  rgonsett@connectnet.com   or  telephone (760) 723-2700.

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