The FCC has proposed amending its rules governing the Emergency Alert System (EAS) in order to test and improve the effectiveness of the system. In particular, the Commission has proposed that all EAS participants be required to join in a nationwide test — to be scheduled by the FCC in consultation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — to ensure that the system will function properly to inform the public in the event of a national crisis. The FCC proposes to implement the national test on a yearly basis and seeks comment on the specific language of the proposed rule. A copy of the Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) was recently published in the Federal Register establishing the deadline for Comments on the proposed rules as March 1, 2010, with Reply Comments due on or before March 30, 2010.
In issuing its NPRM, available here, the Commission acknowledged the shortcomings of the current rules and its belief that a national test — and the data gathered from such a test — is critical to ensuring consistency and reliability in a system that has actually never been used to deliver a national Presidential alert. Under the current system, an EAS message is initiated, which is then passed via specially encoded messages to a broadcast-based transmission network, and then on to broadcast stations, cable operators, and other EAS participants in a daisy-chain distribution to the final end users, i.e., the public who is listening, watching, or reading, on radio, television, cable, or other services. This daisy-chain structure leaves the system, in the Commission’s estimation, vulnerable to a significant failure if the message distribution is severed or delayed at any one point. By proposing an annual national test, the Commission seeks to test the system in an organized, controlled manner, gather data from the EAS participants, and apply what is learned. Under the Commission’s proposed rule, the annual test would replace one of the required monthly tests and participants would have at least two months advance notice of the nationwide test. EAS participants would be required to log the test results of the test and provide information on the results to the Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau within 30 days of the test. The Commission seeks input on the proposed rule, including whether once a year is sufficient, and what the costs would be attendant to the testing and reporting.