This afternoon, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) adopted the new digital message format for the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) standard.  The adoption of this message format is the next step in the implementation of Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which expands the traditional Emergency Alert System used by radio and television to other communications devices, such as mobile phones and personal computers.  In the words of the FEMA news release issued today:  "This open standard will enable alert messages to be easily composed by emergency management officials for communication with citizens using a much broader set of devices to reach as many people as possible."

More importantly for broadcasters, the adoption of this digital message format triggers the clock for updating their EAS equipment to ensure that it is able to handle the new Common Alerting Protocol.  As we wrote about earlier, as part of an EAS Order adopted by the FCC back in 2007, the Commission mandated that all EAS participants — which includes 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.  Thus, with FEMA’s adoption of the CAP messaging standard today it would appear that the 180-day clock has been triggered and the countdown for broadcast stations to acquire CAPS-compliant EAS equipment has begun.  I say "it would appear" because it is a bit unclear whether the 180-day clock is triggered instantaneously by the release of FEMA’s notice.  Trade press this evening is reporting that the FCC has confirmed that the clock has indeed been triggered and is counting down, but no official notice has been released yet by the FCC.  Readers will recall that that the Commission is still in the midst of a proceeding to adopt revisions to its EAS rules to facilitate the CAP standard.  In addition, several parties commenting in the EAS proceeding requested an extension or tolling of the 180-day clock in order to allow broadcast stations more time to acquire the necessary equipment and to allow equipment manufacturers more lead time to meet the demand for new equipment brought about by the rule changes.  In comments today at the NAB/RAB Radio Show today, FCC staff members acknowledged that several requests for extension of time had been made and were being considered along with the comments filed in the proceeding.  We will update this post with further information if and when the FCC releases a Public Notice regarding the 180-day clock, but in the meantime broadcasters should operate under the premise that the 180-day clock is now ticking and start making plans to ensure that they have CAP-compliant EAS equipment in place within 180 days from today.