At least some Emergency Alert System observers sound encouraged by the FCC’s plans to address EAS shortcomings before the commission and FEMA conduct another national test.
FCC List National EAS Test Faults
The PSHSB said in its report on the first national EAS test that it uncovered several problems that impeded the ability of some EAS participants to receive and/or retransmit the Emergency Alert Notification. These included:
• Widespread poor audio quality nationwide;
• Lack of a Primary Entry Point (PEP) station in the area to provide a direct connection to FEMA;
• Use of alternatives to PEP-based EAN distribution;
• Short test length;
• Anomalies in EAS equipment programming and operation.
A report from the commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, released in April, identified steps that it believes are necessary to improve alerting. This follows the first national EAS test, conducted in November of 2011. Overall, a large majority of EAS participants successfully received the Emergency Action Notification, the live code for the national EAS, the bureau report noted. “The test demonstrated that the national EAS distribution architecture is basically sound.”
Gary Timm is broadcast chair of the Wisconsin State EAS Committee and an alerting subject matter expert for SRA International in Washington. Timm said the greatest value of the report is the PSHSB urging the commission to move forward with new rules to improve EAS.
“This expected resolution of the many items deferred for ruling in the EAS Fifth Report and Order will allow states to finally complete their revised EAS plans, and the recommended rules to improve [Emergency Action Notification] performance will pave the way for an even more successful next nationwide EAS test,” Timm said.
Asking the states to revise their EAS test plans to update monitoring assignments is important; the FCC found that many stations did not know which stations to monitor to receive the alert. In the report, the bureau said a lack of consistency among state plans made it difficult for the commission and FEMA to create a national propagation map after the test.
The FCC analyzed test data from more than 16,000 EAS participants and held discussions with EAS stakeholders to dissect the results. It acknowledged widespread poor audio quality of the test and the inability of some EAS participants to receive or transmit the Emergency Action Notification message, the live message that a president would use to address the nation in times of crisis.
“The type of national emergency that would justify a presidential EAS alert would be a catastrophic event, where access to electrical power and communications systems may be significantly degraded or even eliminated,” the bureau states in the report.
‘Possible Further Action’
What about stations or cable systems that didn’t turn in EAS national test results? A “significant number” of stations appear not to have filed, according to the FCC.
A bureau warning was buried in Footnote 22 of the PSHSB report:
“Although the commission received thousands of reports from EAS participants, many entities did not submit the required filings. The deadline for filing these reports was Dec. 27, 2011. Since that time, the bureau has reached out, primarily through industry organizations including the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and the American Cable Association, to encourage those EAS participants that had not filed their mandatory reports to do so. As a result of this effort, PSHSB received numerous additional filings in November 2012. However, there are a significant number of EAS participants that still appear not to have filed the required reports. Accordingly, the bureau plans to confirm cases of continued non-filers and refer them to the Enforcement Bureau for possible further action.”
“Under such conditions, the one communications media platform likely to continue operating is broadcast radio, accessible from battery powered consumer receiver sets and other means, such as car radios and hand-cranked radios.”
In addition, the bureau found that a decision by federal planners to shorten the EAS test length — from around two minutes to 30 seconds — meant that some broadcast stations and cable systems were unable to deliver the EAN.
The report did conclude that “a large majority” of broadcasters and other EAS participants reported receiving the EAN.
However, not all reaction from EAS stakeholders was congratulatory in tone.
“The FCC was under a lot of pressure to say something,” Washington State SECC Chair Clay Freinwald told Radio World. He believes the report is “short on what went wrong” with the first test.
“There also needs to be better ongoing communication with all the stakeholders.”
On the FCC’s list of improvements is a call for a rulemaking on proposed changes to EAS equipment rules to ensure that alert encoders/decoders operate in a consistent manner.
“We now have some encouragement from the FCC that they will conduct conformance testing beyond the extensive IPAWS OPEN testing that FEMA conducted to make sure all authorized EAS devices will play nice together when it counts,” said Richard Rudman, core member of the Broadcast Warning Working Group. IPAWS is FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System platform.
Rudman would like to see standardized feature sets and behaviors for all authorized EAS equipment, but “since enhanced EAS equipment has already been put into service,” that may not be possible.
Nevada EAS Chair Adrienne Abbott said the FCC report revealed nothing new, “at least nothing that EAS state chairs hadn’t figured out.”
“However, at least we now have the information officially from the FCC and FEMA and we can only wonder why it took them so long to put out the report,” Abbott said.
The bureau gave no explanation for the amount of time it took to issue its report, though it did note the delay by some participants in filing mandatory reports.
And it recommends that the commission consider requesting that the White House reconvene the federal EAS Test Working Group to address issues raised by the test and plan the next nationwide EAS action.