Television news fulfills one of its most important core functions when it assists the public with vital, potentially life-saving, information in times of emergency.
A new tool is on the way that will help TV broadcasters take delivery of critical emergency communications to the public to a whole new level. The Mobile Emergency Alert System, M-EAS, was adopted as part of the ATSC A/153 Mobile DTV standard last month.
Unlike the existing Emergency Alert System, M-EAS gives television broadcasters a way to transmit warning messages and other vital information over the air to viewers who aren’t in front of their living room TV sets. Rather, small handheld receivers, cell phones equipped with mobile DTV receivers and even media tablets with mobile DTV dongles and antennas will give the public a way to receive warnings and safety messages via OTA television on the go.
Mobile EAS is different in another important respect from the traditional EAS system: It provides for delivery of rich media. That means instead of simply receiving a warning message to evacuate a low-lying area in a hurricane, M-EAS can also deliver maps with evacuation routes, lists of temporary, emergency shelters and other critical information.
M-EAS also is not dependent on the nation’s network of cell phone towers, which has shown itself to be vulnerable to outages in emergencies. Rather, the new system relies on the decades-proven, one-to-many, OTA broadcast architecture.
At the 2013 NAB Show, I interviewed Jay Adrick, who the chairman of ATSC’s M-EAS implementation team, about what remains before deployment of the new mobile warning system begins. News operations in particular, may find it interesting that a major thrust in the near term for Adrick’s “I” team will be resolving interface and workflow questions so broadcasters can more fully use this new technology to inform the public during emergencies.