With Hurricane Florence about to hit the East Coast, broadcasters are well reminded of their obligations with respect to the airing of emergency information. Broadcasters may also want to consider the benefits that the FCC can offer in an emergency. While the FCC yesterday announced the postponement of its test of DIRS, the Disaster Information Reporting System, broadcasters may want to consider quickly getting familiar with this system. The voluntary system allows stations in the area affected by any disaster to report on the status of their operations. In the past, FCC officials have assisted stations that were off-the-air or operating with emergency facilities in order to direct resources (like gas trucks to fuel emergency generators) to these stations so that they could continue to provide emergency information. Registering in DIRS can facilitate getting the information about your station’s status to the FCC. More information is available on the FCC’s website, here. [Update, 9/11/2018, 1:30 PM the FCC just released a Public Notice providing contact information in various FCC Bureaus for licensees to contact about service outages, STA filings and their needs to resume service to the public].

But emergencies also impose regulatory obligations on broadcasters – particularly TV broadcasters. Last year, the issued a FCC Public Notice reminding all video programmers of the importance of making emergency information accessible to all viewers. The FCC has just posted a link to a notice about a disaster preparedness webinar it will be conducting on September 27 for state and local government officials, and we would not be surprised to see a new notice reminding broadcasters of their emergency obligations in the coming days. Last year’s notice serves as a good refresher on all of the obligations of video programmers designed to make emergency information available to members of the viewing audience who may have auditory or visual impairments that may make this information harder to receive. The notice also reminded readers that they could file complaints against video programming distributors who do not follow the rules. Thus, TV broadcasters need to be extremely sensitive to all of these requirements.
Continue Reading With a Hurricane Bearing Down on the East Coast, Remember the FCC’s Requirements for Emergency Communications

With the approach of Hurricane Matthew to the coast of the southeast United States, emergency communications is a high priority for all media outlets. Emergency communications have also been a hot issue at the FCC – with 3 notices in the last week dealing with this important subject. One notice was to provide emergency contact information at the FCC which will be available 24 hours a day during the Hurricane for any assistance that the agency can provide. A second notice was a reminder of how broadcasters (particularly television broadcasters) need to make emergency information accessible. Information that is provided through spoken word must also be made available visually to the hearing impaired, and information that is presented visually must be provided aurally to those who are blind. The third notice asks for comments on the possible extension of time for the waiver of the obligation that TV broadcasters convert certain emergency information presented visually on-screen into audio on a SAP channel for those that are blind or otherwise visually impaired.

The 24-hour hotline (FCC information here) is a service that the FCC instituted many years ago during similar emergencies to help any licensed communications service to the extent possible. In some cases, the response may simply be an immediate response to a request for a temporary authorization to maintain service during the emergency. During Hurricane Katrina, I was asked by a client to talk to people manning the FCC’s emergency number about helping get a fuel truck bringing gasoline to power auxiliary generators at broadcast stations past FEMA roadblocks keeping traffic out of the worst-hit area. I don’t know if the call to the FCC did it, but the truck did get the authorization to enter the restricted area and the station was able to keep operating. So use this number if needed during the emergency.
Continue Reading Emergency Communications Updates: FCC Hotline for Hurricane Matthew, Reminder on Accessibility of Emergency Warnings, and Possible Extension for Audio Conversion of Certain Visual Emergency Information

With Hurricane Isaac soon to make landfall on the Gulf Coast, the FCC is issuing its usual reminders to broadcasters and other communications facilities in areas that are likely to be affected by the storm.  It has today issued two public notices.  The first Public Notice reminds video providers – particularly television stations, but other video providers as well – that they need to present visually emergency information that they may be conveying verbally on the air so that those that are hearing impaired have access to that information, and similarly that information that is provided visually (e.g. through a crawl), be also provided aurally, or at least alert tones must be used to put the visually-impaired on notice of the fact that emergency information is running on the station.  A second public notice tells communications users that they can use the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System ("DIRS") to notify the FCC about service outages that may be caused by the storm

The information about making emergency information accessible is one that is commonly issued by the FCC (see our stories here and here about past warnings).  The FCC reminds  video providers that emergency information must be made available to those with hearing or visual impairments.  For those who are hearing impaired, information must either be provided by closed caption, or by some other means that does not block the closed caption information.  Even where a station is exempt from captioning a story – as many are in the case of breaking news – a visual element must still be provided for all audio information given on the air about "critical details regarding the emergency and how to respond to the emergency."  So stations should do open captions or have their on-air announcers use whiteboards or other means to visually convey the emergency information that they are providing in their commentary.  In the past, big fines have followed from stations that have not provided such information visually (see our post here), and the FCC has made the complaint process easier in recent years, as highlighted by today’s Public Notice.


Continue Reading FCC Issues Reminders to Broadcasters in the Path of Hurricane Issac – Provide Visuals Of Emergency Information and Notify the FCC of Service Outages