The feds want to fix the Emergency Alert System. At the same time, however, the wireless
industry is charging ahead with mobile text alerts, calling radio and
television alerting not quite enough for today’s mobile society.
FEMA and the FCC have been learning from the November nationwide test
of the EAS in 2011 and want to fill in the system gaps, as Radio World has reported. FCC Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau Chief David Turetsky
reinforced that point with lawmakers on March 14 during a hearing of the
Communications and Telecommunications Subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee.
Much of the alerting hearing concerned 911. In fact Turetsky
testified the FCC next week plans to consider a Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking focused on recommendations for improving the reliability of
911 after a storm.
Regarding the national EAS test, Turetsky testified, “Because the
system had never previously been tested nationally, we expected issues
would arise. Our key goal was to identify problems and address them to
ensure that the system would perform as designed.”
The “vast majority” of PEP stations received the alert and were able to pass it down the daisy chain, he noted.
However, the test also revealed problems related
to the reception and transmission of the Emergency Action Notification,
the code used to activate the National EAS, by stations. The main issue
was a transmission anomaly caused by a feedback loop at the initial
distribution to the PEPS, he said, plus a lack of PEPs in various parts
of the country and poor audio quality in some parts of the system.
The lack of PEPS was an issue for Subcommittee Chairman
and Oregon Republican, Greg Walden’s, home state. The former radio owner stated that
what happened during the test “could have been catastrophic in a real
emergency and must be resolved in short order.”
FEMA has now built PEPS in Portland and Eugene, Ore.
Since the national test in 2011, both FEMA and the FCC have been
studying the results, and executing fixes. For example, FEMA is looking
at alternative transmission methods for the FEMA/PEP connection and
plans to introduce satellite connectivity to back up the Public Switched
Telephone Network-based connection that FEMA currently uses to send the
EAN to the PEPs.
FEMA continues to expand the PEP system from the 63 PEPs in operation
at the time of the test to a total of 77 by 2015, we’ve reported.
The FCC is monitoring the effectiveness of these improvements through
its weekly and monthly EAS tests, and reviewing state EAS plans to make
sure stations know what facilities they’re supposed to be monitoring to
get their alerts.
Meanwhile, Christopher Guttman-McCabe, testifying for CTIA — The
Wireless Association, described what is now called the Wireless
Emergency Alert program, as a real “public-private success story.”
Carriers serving some 97 percent of wireless subscribers are taking part in the
program, he told lawmakers, predicting that number will increase: “The
program’s utility will only grow as additional WEA-capable handsets are
deployed and the carriers and FEMA work toward the deployment of even
more granular geo-targeting capabilities,” according to Guttman-McCabe.
Then in an apparent reference to radio’s efforts to get the carriers
to embed or activate FM in phones, he urged lawmakers to support WEA and
“resist calls to allow FEMA or the FCC to impose new technology or
participation mandates that could threaten the public-private
collaboration that has produced a 21st century complement to the
television and radio alerts we all grew up with.”
Calling radio and television’s alerting mechanisms “valuable,” at the
same time, the wireless industry lobbyist stressed they are now
“inadequate” to serve “today’s highly mobile citizenry.” WEA fills in
the gaps by reaching those “not within reach of broadcast signals” he