Feds Plan First Nationwide EAS Test
WASHINGTON: Federal officials are planning to do the first nationwide test
of the broadcast Emergency Alert System. FCC rules now provide for voluntary
testing at the state and the local level, but not nationally. The FCC has
issued a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to change the rules
governing the Emergency Alert System to conduct national testing at least once
The FCC additionally proposes requiring more detailed documentation from
participating TV, radio and cable operations. The information would be due to
the commission within 30 days after the test, and would be made available to
the public. The agency is also asking for feedback on the equipment used to
retransmit EAS codes, which differ depending on the manufacturer.
The codes take over the broadcast communications system for emergency message
distribution. A specific code must then be sent to free up the equipment. A
national alert would likely deliver a message from the president, using a
specific code sequence, the Emergency Action Notification, or EAN. A
limited-area test of the EAN was conducted last week across Alaska. Several
anomalies were revealed that engineers are now addressing, but the feds are
concerned that the configuration of the alert system may lead to failures.
The national alert system relies on a daisy-chain architecture whereby certain
radio stations designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency receive
the notification first. Those Primary Entry Point stations are monitored by
State Primaries, which then retransmit the alert to Local Primaries that notify
all other broadcast and cable participants.
The United States is divided into 550 local EAS areas, each with at least two
Local Primaries that must monitor two sources for presidential alerts.
The feds believe the daisy chain configuration makes the system vulnerable to
“single-point-of-failure problems” where stations beyond that point in chain
don’t receive the notification. Such was the case in June, 2007, when a
national EAS was accidentally triggered during a FEMA test of a new satellite
warning system in Illinois.
“It was subsequently discovered that some EAS participant equipment simply did
not pass on the alert,” the FCC’s notice said.
An effort to update EAS technology has been underway under the direction of the
FCC and FEMA. The so-called “next-generation” EAS would make use of a Common
Alerting Protocol standard that would ease data sharing across different
distribution systems. There is no timetable for the adoption and implementation
of upgraded EAS technology.
The Second Further Notice is Docket No. 04-296. Comments are due 30 days after
publication in the Federal Register; and reply comments are due 60 days after.
Deborah D. McAdams
(Image by minasodaboy)
More on EAS:
January 7, 2010: “Alaska Alert Test
Some stations didn’t receive the emergency code signal at all, while others
received it more than once.