With the recent April 15th publication of an FCC Public Notice in the Federal Register, the due date for Comments regarding possible revisions to the FCC’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) rules has been set at May 17th, with Reply Comments due by June 14.  By this recent Public Notice, the Commission has requested  informal comments regarding revisions to its EAS rules in connection with the forthcoming adoption of the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  So what, you might ask, is “CAP”? 

CAP stands for “Common Alerting Protocol” and is the next-generation protocol for distributing emergency warnings and safety notifications.  In technical jargon it is “an open, interoperable, data interchange format for collecting and distributing all-hazard safety notifications and emergency warnings to multiple information networks, public safety alerting systems, and personal communications devices.” In layman’s terms, it will allow FEMA, the National Weather Service, a state Governor, or others authorized to initiate public alert systems to automatically format and even target a specific geographic area and simultaneously alert the public using multiple media platforms including broadcast television, radio, cable, cell phones, and electronic highway signs. CAP will also allow for alerts specifically formatted for people with disabilities and for non-English speakers.

As part of an EAS Order adopted by the FCC back in 2007, the Commission mandated that all EAS participants — which would include radio, television, and cable — must accept CAP-based EAS alerts within 180 days after the date on which FEMA publishes the applicable technical standards for CAP.  According to the FCC, FEMA has recently announced its intention to adopt a version of CAP as early as the third quarter of 2010, which would in turn trigger the Commission’s 180-day requirement.  Given that the Commission’s current EAS rules pre-date the concept of Common Alerting Protocol, the existing EAS rules will likely need significant revision or even replacement once CAP is adopted and implemented. 

Accordingly, in light of the short time frame following FEMA’s adoption of the CAP standard, and order to get ahead of any rulemaking that may be necessary to update its rules, on March 25th the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau issued a Public Notice seeking informal comments regarding what, if any, changes might be necessary to the FCC’s EAS Rules in order to accommodate the introduction of CAP.  The FCC has asked that commenters specifically identify the existing rules that need to be modified or deleted, and to suggest new rules for EAS system architecture, equipment requirements, organization, operations, testing, access for people with disabilities and non-English speakers, etc.  More detailed information regarding the specific questions the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau has asked and the information it is hoping to gain from commenters is available in the FCC’s recent Public Notice, which is available here.

Parties interested in commenting have until May 17th to do so, and Reply Comments are due by June 14th.  Commenters should be sure to reference the subject public notice and EB Docket No. 04-296.  Comments can be filed either via ECFS, the the Federal Government’s eRulemaking Portal, or in paper with the FCC.  Given the impact on broadcasters, we’ll continue to follow this issue and report on any changes to the EAS rules as the FCC and FEMA conduct their respective proceedings.