On the anniversary of September 11, it seems appropriate to highlight the upcoming October 4 Nationwide Test of the EAS system. While EAS was not activated during the September 11 emergency, the events of that date have provided much impetus for federal emergency authorities to strengthen the EAS system. Part of that effort has been the regular testing of the Nationwide EAS alert system. As we wrote in August, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has scheduled a nationwide EAS test for October 4, 2023, at approximately 2:20 pm EDT, using the Internet-based Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) (with a back-up date of October 11 if necessary). In a Public Notice released in August, the FCC set out steps that broadcasters should take to prepare for that test.
Just last week, the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau released a further Public Notice to remind Emergency Alert System participants of their obligation to ensure that EAS alerts are accessible to persons with disabilities. For TV stations, to be visually accessible, the EAS text must be displayed as follows:
- At the top of the television screen or where it will not interfere with other visual messages (e.g., closed captioning),
- In a manner (i.e., font size, color, contrast, location, and speed) that is readily readable and understandable (see below),
- Without overlapping lines or extending beyond the viewable display (except for video crawls that intentionally scroll on and off the screen),
- In full at least once during any EAS message. Text should scroll at a speed that allows viewers to read the crawl as if they were going to read it aloud, and
- The background and text colors should sufficiently contrast to allow for readability. For example, a bright green background with white text may not provide sufficient contrast. Green and red should also be avoided as viewers who are color blind have difficulty seeing these colors.
In addition, the audio portion of an EAS message must be played in full at least once to ensure it is accessible to viewers who are blind or have low vision and should be spoken at a pace that allows for a listener to understand the content.