emergency alert system

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)

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

This afternoon, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) adopted the new digital message format for the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) standard.  The adoption of this message format is the next step in the implementation of Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which expands the traditional Emergency Alert System used by radio and television to

With the recent April 15th publication of an FCC Public Notice in the Federal Register, the due date for Comments regarding possible revisions to the FCC’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) rules has been set at May 17th, with Reply Comments due by June 14.  By this recent Public Notice, the Commission has requested  informal comments regarding revisions to its EAS rules in connection with the forthcoming adoption of the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  So what, you might ask, is “CAP”? 

CAP stands for “Common Alerting Protocol” and is the next-generation protocol for distributing emergency warnings and safety notifications.  In technical jargon it is “an open, interoperable, data interchange format for collecting and distributing all-hazard safety notifications and emergency warnings to multiple information networks, public safety alerting systems, and personal communications devices.” In layman’s terms, it will allow FEMA, the National Weather Service, a state Governor, or others authorized to initiate public alert systems to automatically format and even target a specific geographic area and simultaneously alert the public using multiple media platforms including broadcast television, radio, cable, cell phones, and electronic highway signs. CAP will also allow for alerts specifically formatted for people with disabilities and for non-English speakers.

As part of an EAS Order adopted by the FCC back in 2007, the Commission mandated that all EAS participants — which would include radio, television, and cable — must accept CAP-based EAS alerts within 180 days after the date on which FEMA publishes the applicable technical standards for CAP.  According to the FCC, FEMA has recently announced its intention to adopt a version of CAP as early as the third quarter of 2010, which would in turn trigger the Commission’s 180-day requirement.  Given that the Commission’s current EAS rules pre-date the concept of Common Alerting Protocol, the existing EAS rules will likely need significant revision or even replacement once CAP is adopted and implemented. 


Continue Reading Comments Regarding Possible Revisions to FCC’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) Rules due May 17

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.


Continue Reading FCC Proposes National Test of EAS – Emergency Alert System; Comments on Proposed Rules due March 1

Last week, the FCC issued several fines to broadcasters for failure to observe some basic FCC rules.  As there many FCC rules to observe, broadcasters should use the misfortune of others who have suffered from these fines as a way to check their own operations to make sure that they meet all of the required Commission standards.  In the recent cases, fines were issued for a variety of violations, including the failure to have a manned main studio, the failure to have a working EAS system, incomplete public files, operations of an AM station at night with daytime power, and the failure to have a locked fence around an AM tower.  This post deals with the issues discovered at the studios of stations – a separate post will deal with the issues at the transmitter sites. 

The main studio rule violation was a case that, while seemingly obvious, also should remind broadcasters of their obligations under the requirement that a station have a manned main studio.  In this case, when the FCC inspectors arrived at the station’s main studio, they found it locked and abandoned.  Once they were able to locate a station representative to let them into the studio, they found that there was some equipment in the facility, but it was not hooked up, nor was there any telephone or data line that would permit the station to be controlled from the site.  The Commission’s main studio rules require that there be at least two station employees for whom the studio is their principal place of business (I like to think of it as the place where these employees have their desks with the pictures of their kids or their dog, as the case may be, and where they show up in the morning to drink their morning cup of coffee before heading out to do sales, news or whatever their job may be).  At least one of the two employees who report to the studio as their principal place of business must be a management level employee, and at least one of those employees must be present during all normal business hours.  Thus, the studio should never be devoid of human life.  The studio must be able to originate programming, and the station must be able to be controlled from that location so that the employees there could originate programming in the event of a local emergency.  In light of these violations and others, the station in this case was fined $8000.


Continue Reading FCC Inspections – Fines for Violations of Rules on Main Studio, EAS, and Public File

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. 


Continue Reading FCC Schedules Summit on Status of EAS

The FCC’s Emergency Alert System ("EAS") is the bane of many broadcasters.  Failing to have operational EAS equipment, or otherwise failing to comply with the requirements of the rules, including failures to conduct the mandatory tests of the system, are among the most common causes of a fine following an FCC field inspection.  To help ensure compliance with the EAS