captioning of emergency information

With the recent hurricanes and last night’s tragedy in Las Vegas, the FCC Public Notice issued last week reminding all video programmers of the importance of making emergency information accessible to all viewers seems very timely. The public notice serves as a good refresher on all of the obligations of video programmers designed to make emergency information available to members of the viewing audience who may have auditory or visual impairments that may make this information harder to receive. As the FCC also reminds readers of its notice of the ways in which to file complaints against video programming distributors who do not follow the rules, TV broadcasters need to be extremely sensitive to all of these requirements.

What are these obligations? These are some of the obligations highlighted by the FCC’s reminder:

  • For persons who are visually impaired, rules require that emergency information that is visually provided in a newscast also be aurally described in the main audio channel of the station.
  • When emergency information is provided outside of a newscast (e.g. in a crawl during entertainment programming), that information must be accompanied by an aural tone and then an audio version of the emergency information must be broadcast on a secondary audio channel (SAP channel) of a TV station at least twice. See our articles here, here and here about this obligation.
  • For persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, the Commission requires that emergency information provided in the audio portion of a broadcast also be presented visually, through methods including captioning, crawls or scrolls that do not block any emergency information provided through other visual means (like other captions or crawls).
  • For stations that are permitted to use electronic newsroom technique (ENT) captions, where ENT does not provide captions for breaking news and emergency alerts, stations must make emergency information available through some other visual means. See our post here on this obligation.
  • The FCC suggests, but does not require, that stations make emergency information available through multiple means (maps, charts, and other visual information) and in plain language, so that all viewers can understand the nature of any emergency.


Continue Reading FCC Reminder to Video Programming Distributors – Including Broadcasters – on Accessibility Obligations

With Hurricane Isaac soon to make landfall on the Gulf Coast, the FCC is issuing its usual reminders to broadcasters and other communications facilities in areas that are likely to be affected by the storm.  It has today issued two public notices.  The first Public Notice reminds video providers – particularly television stations, but other video providers as well – that they need to present visually emergency information that they may be conveying verbally on the air so that those that are hearing impaired have access to that information, and similarly that information that is provided visually (e.g. through a crawl), be also provided aurally, or at least alert tones must be used to put the visually-impaired on notice of the fact that emergency information is running on the station.  A second public notice tells communications users that they can use the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System ("DIRS") to notify the FCC about service outages that may be caused by the storm

The information about making emergency information accessible is one that is commonly issued by the FCC (see our stories here and here about past warnings).  The FCC reminds  video providers that emergency information must be made available to those with hearing or visual impairments.  For those who are hearing impaired, information must either be provided by closed caption, or by some other means that does not block the closed caption information.  Even where a station is exempt from captioning a story – as many are in the case of breaking news – a visual element must still be provided for all audio information given on the air about "critical details regarding the emergency and how to respond to the emergency."  So stations should do open captions or have their on-air announcers use whiteboards or other means to visually convey the emergency information that they are providing in their commentary.  In the past, big fines have followed from stations that have not provided such information visually (see our post here), and the FCC has made the complaint process easier in recent years, as highlighted by today’s Public Notice.

Continue Reading FCC Issues Reminders to Broadcasters in the Path of Hurricane Issac – Provide Visuals Of Emergency Information and Notify the FCC of Service Outages

The dates for comments on the FCC proposed rules for the captioning of Internet Video have been set.  Comments are due on October 18 with replies due on October 28.  An associated Federal Register publication also notes that comments can be filed with the Office of Management and Budget about the compliance of

There has been much focus on emergency communications recently, with the East Coast earthquake re-igniting the debate over FM-enabled mobile phones, and with Hurricane Irene forcing stations to gear up for emergency coverage in the coming days.  But even without these unusual events, the emergency communications world has been much in the news, given the current requirement for broadcast stations to be ready for the new Common Alerting Protocol ("CAP"), an Internet-based alerting system, by the end of September, and with the first-ever test of the National EAS system scheduled for November.  The CAP conversion date has recently been the subject of debate in a number of FCC filings – and there seems like a good chance that the September 30 deadline will be delayed – if for no other reason than the fact that the FCC has yet to adopt final rules for the equipment required for such compliance.  The National Test, however, should go on as scheduled.  More on all of these subjects below.

First, the coming hurricane should prompt stations to be ready for potential emergency operations.  The FCC in the past has publicized its Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS).  Stations can voluntarily register with DIRS to give the FCC a contact person to assess damage after the storm, and to notify the FCC of the need for any aide that the Commission might be able to provide.  During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I was personally involved in discussions with FCC personnel who coordinated with other government agencies to get clearance for diesel tanker trucks to gain access to restricted area to deliver fuel to a client’s radio station that was still operational (on generator power) providing emergency information to Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. The FCC personnel can be of great assistance in such situations, so DIRS registrations may be worth considering.  The FCC’s website also provides helpful information about planning for disaster recovery  and about hurricanes specifically.  FCC emergency contact information is also on their site.

Continue Reading Hurricanes and Earthquakes – Emergency Communications In the Spotlight With CAP Conversion and National EAS Test Coming Soon (Though, For CAP, Maybe Not As Soon As We Thought)