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.