In our reminder on August regulatory dates for broadcasters, we noted that broadcasters must register their stations in a new FCC filing system that will allow them to electronically report on the success of the next EAS National Test, to be conducted on September 28. The new registration system, called EAS Test Reporting
All broadcasters and other EAS participants need to remember to file their reports on whether or not they received the Nationwide EAS Test by December 27. With everyone preparing for the holidays, and with much of the publicity about that test having died down, it may be very easy for some to have forgotten that…
With less than a week to go before the first ever Nationwide Test of the Emergency Alert System ("EAS"), changes are being made for the November 9 test. In a Public Notice released today, the FCC announced that the EAS message that will be conveyed will be only 30 seconds long, not the two or three minutes that were originally planned. There were some concerns expressed by certain groups, include groups representing cable television operators, that while the test was underway, certain automatic systems would kick in, overriding the visuals from the programming channel being broadcast. The automatic EAS alerts that would be transmitted in a textual format would not specifically say that they were being conveyed as part of a test. While the audio accompanying the test would provide that information, representatives of the hearing-impaired community were concerned that some people might believe that a real emergency was taking place. While the FCC and FEMA had initially indicated that a two or three minute test was necessary to make sure that the message could be conveyed throughout the whole daisy chain system and that the system would be capable of conveying a long message that might be necessary in the event of a real emergency, it appears that they have now agreed that a 30 second message will be sufficient, and less likely to start a "War of the Worlds" panic among those who don’t hear the audio message from the test.
The EAS Handbook for this Nationwide test (which we wrote about last week, here) is supposed to be at the control point of all stations and has been revised to take into account the new length of the test. The revised handbook is available here. Also, the Commission has made heard complaints about Form 1 on its on-line reporting system for this test, which we also wrote about last week. One complaint was that the form required information about the location of the station in geographical minutes in decimal format, not in the minutes and seconds as expressed on the face of FCC licenses and in most FCC databases. Many broadcasters had complained about that requirement – not knowing how to convert from minutes and seconds to minutes in a decimal format. In response to those complaints, the Form has been revised to provide a link to a decimal converter program – where you can put in the minutes and seconds as expressed on your license and get the decimal expression of the transmitter site location. Other minor changes in the form have also been made – including making some information (like a cell phone number for someone at the station) optional.
The FCC has released its EAS Handbook, specially directed to the Nationwide EAS Alert that will occur on November 9. This Handbook is to be posted at all stations that are participants in the EAS Network (which is virtually all stations) for purposes of this test only (stations should also have the standard EAS Handbook at their control points, but this Handbook will be used for the Nationwide Test). Cable systems are also participating in the EAS system and are included in the test as well. As we have written before, the November 9 test is the first time that the Emergency Alert System (originally adopted in the 1960s as the Emergency Broadcast System) will be tested for a national alert, even though that was the original, and remains the primary, focus of the EAS system. EAS is now used mostly for localized weather and Amber alerts.
The Handbook also points to three FCC forms, to be accessed and filed online through the FCC’s website. While the use of these electronic forms are, according to an FCC Public Notice summarizing the EAS obligations, not mandatory, any station not choosing to use this system will have to file a paper report at the FCC by December 27 providing all of the required information. If you elect to use the simplified electronic forms, Form 1 is to be completed by all stations and cable systems prior to the November 9 test, to provide information about the station or system and a contact person. Form 2 is to be submitted on November 9, indicating whether the test was received. Form 3 is submitted after the test, by December 27, to report information about how the test was received, or why it was not received. Stations deciding to use the electronic filing (which is easier than getting an original and a mandatory copy to the FCC if a paper form is filed) should begin to review and complete Form 1 immediately.
In addition, the NAB has provided much material on the EAS Nationwide test, available here, including PSAs that stations should run now alerting the public that the November 9 test is only a test and not a real emergency, and also providing a suggested slide for TV stations to air during the test itself. The message that this is only a test, to be aired by radio stations, is contained in the Emergency Action Notification message that will be sent to stations during the alert. A sample of that text is in the EAS Handbook. As this is an important test of the EAS system, and will require broadcasters to report on their compliance, everyone should be preparing to take part – and checking their systems to make sure that they are fully functional – now.
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.