March 01-2011

On May 4, 2007, a devastating tornado hit the town of Greensburg, Kansas, wiping out 95 percent of the town.  It left 1,200 townspeople homeless and without any communication, and it took the lives of 12 people.  In its aftermath, the residents of Greensburg and surrounding Kiowa County used the event to revitalize their community.

Under the guidance of Dr. Bert Biles, Executive Producer in the Division of Communications and Marketing at Kansas State University, and Janet West, President of the Board of Directors of the Kiowa County, KS, Media Center Foundation, a new concept was created:  an innovative multi-media communications hub for the rebuilt community.     

Brandon Utech, National Institute of Land Management and Training (NILMT) Director of Technology at Kansas State, has led the technical design of a Media Center built around the concept of high definition television delivered via the internet and “fiber-to-the-home” cable, an internet radio station, and a significant web presence.  The two-fold project includes a permanent facility plus an HDTV production trailer for remote broadcasts.  The entire system will be powered by citizens of Kiowa County, bringing citizen journalism at a whole new level.

“The objective was to build the community and keep it together with a common communications method,” said Biles.  “Officials realized that they were far removed from sustainable communication.  The tornado was the catalyst for what some called a “tornado of technology,” he explained.

Kramer Electronics supplied the first round of products that brought the HDTV production trailer to life.  The trailer was outfitted with the capability of delivering live high definition video from any location. 

Sixteen Kramer 1x4 HD/SDI video distribution amplifiers, four Kramer 1x4 DVI distribution amplifiers, and a Kramer 1x10 video and audio distribution amplifier allowed the most flexible signal routing.   A computer-based 8-channel high definition switcher powers the system.  The video signal travels to a Kramer DVI distribution amplifier, which simultaneously sends signals to the technical director’s monitor and to two multi-vision displays in the front of the trailer.  The Kramer product maintains the quality of the HD signal, and the audio distribution amplifier allows the signals to be divided. 

“The Kramer products simplify the process,” said Utech.  “They allowed a flexible trailer to route signals and create a patch-panel that has close to infinite possibilities.  All we do is turn them on and they work,” he noted.

The Media Center plans to use a novel, dedicated fiber system to provide “back haul” links from each of the remote sites in Greensburg - - the football field and the basket ball gym at the new K-12 public school campus, the new City Hall, the Kiowa County courthouse and the Kiowa County Fairgrounds.   The production trailer sends an HD/SDI signal from the Kramer distribution amplifiers back to the Media Center.  
Citizen journalists were trained on the equipment and have produced over 70 short features that were broadcast on You Tube from the Kansas State Fair.  Future broadcasts will include live high school basketball and football games and local government meetings.   

“We set out to build a center that runs in HD/SDI from start to finish,” Biles said.  “We were able to achieve that with the Kramer product line – it all works together, it’s convenient, flexible and easy-to-use.”  Biles noted that the Kramer product was also “rack-friendly,” an important consideration in a limited-space mobile trailer.

 “The whole project has really revitalized the community, especially with the younger generation,” said West.  “The technology has attracted younger people, and their ability to work with it is allowing us to capture storm stories and document Greensburg’s recovery.”

The second phase of the project – the Kiowa County Commons building – will house a permanent HDTV Studio, along with the library, museum and the Kansas State Extension office. 

“We anticipate that the permanent HDTV Studio in the Commons building will incorporate a similar complement of Kramer equipment.  We’ll just adapt the successful model used in the HDTV production trailer,” said Biles.  

Due to be completed in July of 2011, the Commons building will be a discovery center for visitors and citizens alike, as they learn about one town’s rise from devastation to high-tech communications.