common alerting protocol

Several years ago, the FCC mandated that broadcasters utilize not only the traditional over-the-air “daisy-chain” broadcast EAS alerting system where emergency alerts are passed from one station to another but also utilize an Internet-based Common Alerting Protocol (“CAP”) system where warnings can be sent directly to stations (see, for example, our articles here and

We wrote earlier this week about the upcoming EAS Nationwide Test and the need for broadcasters to make sure that their EAS equipment is operating in compliance with all FCC rules. The FCC itself has now released its own Public Notice detailing the many things that broadcasters need to check at their facilities before the

In the last two days, several radio and television stations across the country had their station’s EAS systems hacked – and ended up broadcasting alerts dealing with zombie attacks that went out using the standard EAS systems and appeared or sounded to the viewer or listener to be real alerts. The FCC and others involved in the EAS program fear that other fake alerts have already been inserted into stations’ systems and may be broadcast soon – perhaps during events like the State of the Union address or other widely-viewed programs. To combat these issues, the FCC has issued the following advice to all stations:

All EAS Participants are required to take immediate action to secure their CAP EAS equipment, including resetting passwords, and ensuring CAP EAS equipment is secured behind properly configured firewalls and other defensive measures.  All CAP EAS equipment manufacturer models are included in this advisory.

 

All Broadcast and Cable EAS Participants are urged to take the following actions immediately

 

 

1.            EAS Participants must change all passwords on their CAP EAS equipment from default factory settings, including administrator and user accounts. 

2.            EAS Participants are also urged to ensure that their firewalls and other solutions are properly configured and up-to-date.

3.            EAS Participants are further advised to examine their CAP EAS equipment to ensure that no unauthorized alerts or messages have been set (queued) for future transmission.

4.            If you are unable to reset the default passwords on your equipment, you may consider disconnecting your device’s Ethernet connection until those settings have been updated.

5.            EAS Participants that have questions about securing their equipment should consult their equipment manufacturer.


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Now that we’ve completed last week’s first-ever Nationwide test of the EAS system, designed to alert Americans in the event of an emergency, the FCC is in the process of collecting information about the successes and failures of the test, through the submissions of participants.  Forms reporting on the results of the test are due by December 27.  At the same time, there has been at least one Congressional call for an expansion of the system in order to provide alerts not only by broadcast, cable and direct broadcast satellite systems, but also through on-line social networking communications tools

According to press reports (see, e.g. this article from the NY Times), the nationwide test uncovered many shortcomings in the system, as many broadcast stations (including all stations in two states) never received the alerts from the station that they were monitoring, in some cases because the message was never delivered to primary stations which were supposed to start the relay of the message to other stations along the daisy-chain system that is supposed to be in place.  Cable and satellite also had many problems.  Despite the fact that there may have been issues at your station or in your area, all participants should report on how their facilities fared in the test.  The FCC will take this information to assess what needs to be done to repair the problems that were witnesses.  The necessary Forms to report on the results of the test are available on the FCC’s website.  In adopting the rules for the test, the FCC stated that it was not intending that the reporting system be a way to punish stations whose facilities did not receive or transmit the test, but instead to be a diagnostic tool to determine whether or not the system worked.  So the failure to file the forms to report on the success of the test on your stations is much more likely to bring an FCC enforcement action against your station than is reporting that, for one reason or another, the test did not work.  These forms are due on December 27.


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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.


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The FCC’s recent Notice of Proposed Rule Making outlining changes to the FCC’s Part 11 Rules governing the Emergency Alert System ("EAS") was published in the Federal Register today.  Today’s publication establishes the timing for submitting Comments in this proceeding.  Comments will be due by July 20, with Reply Comments due by August 4th.  By its

The date for a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System ("EAS") was announced by the FCC last week, at the same meeting at which the Future of Media report was delivered.  The first ever national test of EAS will occur at 2 PM EST on November 9, 2011. As we wrote in February, the FCC amended its rules to provide for a nationwide test, in addition to the weekly and monthly tests that are already part of the FCC rules.  The nationwide test is to assess the reliability and effectiveness of EAS in being able to convey to the public a Presidential alert.  This test comes at the same time as the FCC has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to consider amendments to its rules to provide for the conversion to a new method of disseminating EAS alerts – using the Common Alert Protocol (CAP) which is IP based, rather than reliant on the daisy chain over-the-air system that has been used for so long.  One question is whether the deadline for CAP implementation, presently set for September 30, should be extended.  Thoughts about the test and the FCC proposals for CAP implementation are set out below. 

The Nationwide test, even though it will not use the CAP system (which in and of itself may show that the Commission has already recognized that the September 30 CAP implementation deadline will be extended), is still very important for broadcasters.  The FCC, in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency ("FEMA"), will use the results of the test to determine what problems exist in the EAS system and what improvements are necessary to ensure that the EAS functions as a robust public warning system.  As broadcasters in recent years have highlighted their participation in EAS, and the important role that it plays in alerting communities to emergency situations, in connection with many initiatives (including the push to put FM chips in cell phones), broadcasters want to make sure that their performance during the upcoming test will be up to the level that the FCC expects. As all EAS participants will have to report to the FCC on the results of the test, all participants should use the period between now and November to assure that their systems are working and ready to fulfill their obligations under the rules. No broadcaster, cable system or other participant wants to be in the position of having to report to the FCC that their equipment was malfunctioning on the date of the test. And, certainly, no participant wants to forget to file the necessary report when due.


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At the urging of virtually the entire broadcast and cable industry, as well as the communications engineering community, the FCC today granted an extension of time for broadcasters and other EAS participants to come into compliance with the new CAP reception requirements – putting off the need for compliance until September 30, 2011.  CAP (the Common Alerting