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CDC Keeps Control With Upgraded Broadcast Facility

Uplinks enable agency to get word out during health emergencies

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has updated its broadcast facility so that it can better uplink to national and local news organizations and provide interviews and provide information during a health crisis.

A CDC broadcast facility technician monitors the production of a health officer’s presentation. Photo courtesy of CDC by Pat Nordell

The CDC’s Division of Communications Services (DCS) upgraded its broadcast facilities so that when an outbreak of a contagion, or other health emergency occurs requiring CDC intervention, an agency subject matter expert can provide insight to the public via commercial broadcasters such as the Today show, Anderson Cooper, Good Morning American, to name a few, said Bryon Skinner, Branch Chief of the broadcast facility.


The new facility was built to replace the old analog, reel-to-reel studio, according to Skinner. The broadcast facility is a branch of the DCS and it “stand(s) ready to do what we call network news uplinks and press conferences for emergency services,” he said. The new facility allows for a professional-level product on national television, or in a professional seminar, or even a waiting room or work place, he added.

An example of such a crisis was the H1N1 scare from the spring of 2009, Skinner said. “Over a two-week period, we [DCS] did over 75 uplinks to the major networks, and to cable networks such as Univision, for which the uplink was in Spanish,” he added. However, such uplinks would not have been possible as little as six-years ago, it was the upgrade that provided the facility with the capacity to handle so many network links, he said.

The old DCS facility was designed for film back in the 1960s, requiring constant changes as the technology evolved, according to Skinner. “We were constantly knocking holes in the walls to pull cables through and readapt it as the technology changed,” he said. “First we went to tape, and then we made it a live capable studio, but it was originally designed for film. So to be able to go from the ground up, and build a stateof- the-art high-definition facility, was great for us. We’ve certainly used it to get the CDC’s health messages out to the public.”

A CDC cameraman shoots video of a scientist suiting up to enter a bio lab. Photo courtesy of CDC Skinner oversaw the facility’s design, which was a careful process to reuse when possible and included carefully choosing the most effective equipment for the facility. When there was a difference of opinion on which brand to choose, technicians spent time using preferred models until a favorite was selected.

Russell Chamblee, DCS broadcast facility manager, directly oversaw the upgrade at the CDC studio. “It’s a hidef 720p high definition plan,” and included “the legacy tapes” the organization has in its archives, he said. While analog tapes had to be taken into account, the focus of the upgrade was on high definition, including the switchers, which are Snell Kahuna switchers. Those switchers are not “any trouble at all, we just upgraded the two switchers in our auditoriums, and one in the press room,” he said.

Those switchers can be configured for different inputs, Chamblee said. Users can mix and match “the flavors coming into the switcher,” and the output of the switcher can be set to whatever the user wants the output to be, he added. “That saves money from having to buy tons of converters to go in back of the house to covert it before it gets to the switcher,” he said, adding “That costs money.” So when the switcher will handle it, “you don’t have to buy that support equipment to go in the back of the house.”


While the facility is focused on providing uplinks to commercial news organizations, it has other duties, Skinner said. “We don’t do regular programming,” he said. “What we do when there’s not an outbreak and we’re not doing those press conferences, and reaching the public with those health messages on an emergency basis, then our regular work, our day-to-day work, is making three to four minute short pieces and posting them on the web,” he added. “We have a website called CDC-TV,” and the DCS has about 70 pieces posted on the website, and it has produced some public service announcements.

Those are downloadable and can be placed onto a local website. “They are designed to motivate the public to take action to improve their health,” he said.

Commander Amy Valderrama, a U.S. Public Health Service officer who is with the CDC, has participated in the production of a PSA podcast. Valderrama wrote a paper about cardiac arrest, and was recruited to participate in the podcast, she said, adding, “It was my first experience on anything like that.” The DCS staff wrote a script based on her work, and the podcast’s message was that in the event of a cardiac arrest, it’s important to call 911, do cardiopulmonary resuscitation, use an automated external defibrillator and act quickly. “That was the message, and I think it got out,” she said.