The FCC has just issued orders fining two stations, one for $8000 and one for $5000, for not having EAS receivers that were in compliance with FCC rules. The stations, which are located in the same building, shared one EAS receiver. According to FCC rules, co-located stations can share EAS receivers when they are
I’m writing this entry as I return from the annual convention of the Iowa Broadcasters Association, held this year in Des Moines, Iowa. Anyone who has read, watched or listened to the national news this week knows of the terrible tornadoes that devastated a Boy Scout camp in that state, and the floods ravaging many of its cities and threatening others. I arrived in Iowa on Wednesday having just completed the filing of reply comments in the FCC’s localism proceeding, and after reviewing the many comments filed in that proceeding. After talking with, watching and listening to the Iowa Broadcasters, I was struck by the contrast between the picture of the broadcast industry contained in the Commission’s notice of proposed rulemaking and that which I saw and heard reflected in the words and actions of the broadcasters. I could only think of how the broadcasters of Iowa and the remainder of the country have dealt admirably in their programming with the disasters that nature has sent their way, and with the other issues facing this country every day, and have been able to do this all without any compulsion by the government. Why, when we have probably the most responsive broadcast system on earth, do we need the government to step in and tell broadcasters how to serve their communities?
At dinner on Wednesday, I watched one station general manager repeatedly getting up from his meal to take calls from his station about their coverage of a tornado that had come within a quarter mile of his studio, and how he had to insist that his employees take shelter from the storm rather than continuing to broadcast news reports from their exposed location as the tornado bore down on them. Another told me of how he and another employee had spent the previous day piling sandbags around the station to keep the water from flooding the studio, all the time reporting between every song the station played updates on the weather and travel conditions in their community. Other stations had continued to operate after their tower sites flooded by gerry-rigging antennas on dry land to permit their continued operation. In one of the more minor inconveniences, one station talked about operating for a few days after their city’s waterworks had been inundated by floods , meaning that their studio (and the rest of town) had no running water for drinking or even for flushing the toilets. Yet, between these inconveniences, large and small, the broadcasters continued their service, without being told how by the government.
The FCC has scheduled a Summit on the Emergency Alert System ("EAS"), to be held on May 19. The EAS system is the alert system used by broadcasters to pass on emergency information from government officials to their listeners. EAS replaced the Emergency Broadcast System ("EBS") and was intended to be a more reliable substitute for the system originally adopted during the Cold War to convey a Presidential message about a nuclear attack or similar emergency to the entire country. Over the years, the system has adapted to include information about local emergencies and "amber alerts" about the kidnapping or disappearance of children. However, especially since 9-11 and some of the hurricanes in the South, questions have been raised about the effectiveness of the system, and means to make the distribution of emergency information more reliable and efficient have been sought. The FCC currently has a rulemaking pending to determine ways in which that system can be made more efficient – a question sure to be addressed at the Summit.
In the current proceeding on reforming the EAS system, one of the questions that has been asked is how the system should be activated for non-Federal emergencies. Obviously, the President can still activate the system for a national emergency, but how alerts about local emergencies are initiated is one of the more controversial issues in the proceeding. Currently, there is no uniform system. Instead, each state’s system may have different points from which an alert can be initiated. Concerns have been raised that if the ability to initiate an alert is too broadly distributed, alerts may be initiated haphazardly, and if too many alerts are issued, the system will lose its impact and other important programming may be preempted unnecessarily. Thus, proposals have been made that the alerts should be initiated only by a state’s Governor or his or her specifically designated representative.