With the recent spate of severe weather throughout the country, a reminder about the FCC’s rules on the presentation of specific emergency information is in order.  The FCC rules requires that any specific emergency information – not a generalized warning, but a specific warning directed at a specific location – must be presented visually as well as in oral form. So if you say that there is a tornado headed to a particular community, and people in the northern portions of the city should head to their basements or an interior room, that information should be presented visually as well as through the statements of the weathercaster who is stating those words.  The nature of the emergency and any information about how to cope with it that is aurally presented must also be presented in some visual manner.  Some time ago, the FCC issued a public notice on this subject.  A correction to that notice, making clear that the emergency information need not be closed-captioned in an emergency, as long as the information is presented in a visual format, is accessible through a previous post on our blog, here.

The Commission made clear that television stations, in emergency situations, need not close caption this information about an immediate and specific emergency, but can present it open captioned, on a chalk board or white board, or in any other way that it is visually apparent to those with hearing difficulties.  The Commission recognized that closed captioning might not be available if an emergency arose outside of the normal news hours, and felt that it was more important that the information be carried than that it be closed captioned.  As the FCC has fined stations for not providing in a visual form this specific information about where there is an emergency and what steps to take to prepare for the emergency, stations should be sure that they are observing these requirements.