FCC Issues $8000 Fine for Radio Station Where EAS Messages Could Not Interrupt Programming During All Hours of Operation
With very limited exceptions, all broadcast stations are required to participate in Emergency Alert System, and to transmit any alerts that they may receive during their hours of operation. The FCC has just proposed to issue an $8000 fine to a station that allegedly had a working EAS receiver (unlike some of the stations we havewritten about before who were fined for EAS violations when their receivers were not connected or otherwise inoperable when the FCC inspectors came knocking). But, here, the issue leading to the fine was that, while the station could receive the EAS alerts, it could not rebroadcast those alerts without a station employee manually reducing the volume of the normal programming that was running at the time. While such a system is not prohibited, the FCC fine arose as the station was not manned during all hours of operation. During those hours when the station was not manned, their EAS equipment did not provide for an automatic override of the programming, and thus any alerts could not be passed on over the air. The lack of any automatic system for getting EAS alerts on the air during the hours when the station was operating in the unattended mode resulted in an $8000 fine, and a condition requiring that the station report in 30 days that it had come into compliance.
The emergency alerts system has traditionally operated on a "daisy chain" basis – where primary EAS stations receive alerts from governmental sources, pass on the alerts to other stations, which in turn relay that message to other stations on down the line. If any link in the chain is broken, then the alert does not reach the public listening to those stations further down the line. While thenew CAP system does not rely on this daisy chain (as it has all stations polling the FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency - IPAWs alert system directly with an Internet connection), the older over-the-air daisy chain remains in place as a back-up to the Internet based system. This case shows how seriously the FCC takes violations of its requirements. Safety issues are a high priority for the FCC, so check your compliance now.