Mobile EAS system tested at CES

Aside from watching local news and the latest episode of “Modern Family,” terrestrial Mobile DTV—based on the ATSC A/153 Mobile Digital TV standard—has been touted as an efficient way to deliver emergency alerts that are adverse to network congestion often seen in times of disaster. That vision is getting closer to reality.

In the first public demonstration of the “Mobile Emergency Alert System (M-EAS) Pilot Project,” at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) PBS and LG Electronics demonstrated how the new system provides instantaneous, reliable, rich media alerts anywhere, anytime.

LG Electronics and its Zenith subsidiary, which have developed M-EAS receivers and provided funding for the project, worked alongside representatives from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), to stage the demo. Harris Broadcast and Roundbox were also involved, providing transmission equipment and server and software technology, respectively.

In Las Vegas, Vegas PBS (KLVX)– one of four PBS stations participating in the M-EAS Pilot Project–is transmitting live mobile DTV signals with rich media emergency alert content to simulate national and local emergency alert messaging.

The CPB provided funding to PBS for this new communications platform. Other public television broadcasters involved are WGBH (Boston), and Alabama Public Television stations WBIQ (Birmingham) and WAIQ (Montgomery), which are now providing rich media content and serving as test markets for the project using terrestrial over-the-air Mobile DTV broadcasts, rather than cellular networks. Fr the CES test, Seattle commercial station KOMO-TV (Fisher Communications) developed a tsunami video alert simulation. No CPB funding was given to Fisher or KOMO-TV.

John McCoskey, Chief Technology Officer at PBS, said the CES demonstration is a key milestone in the M-EAS project.

“Whether utilized in times of national emergency, to warn of a local fast-approaching storm, or to advise the public of missing children, we believe that the new ATSC Mobile DTV system can be harnessed to do far more than just the delivery of linear TV channels,” he said.

The terrestrial broadcast M-EAS project is now delivering trial alerts (that could include video, audio, text, and graphics) to mobile DTV-equipped cellphones, tablets, laptops, netbooks, and in-car navigation systems; in order to avoid the potential roadblocks of cellular system congestion during emergencies. The stated goals of the year long pilot are to develop the basic capability and to prove the viability of M-EAS, to build on existing standards with the cooperation of three public TV stations, and to create a template for deployment by any TV station–public or commercial. Several commercial broadcasters have already joined the project.

“We think this new system will be extremely valuable to federal, state and local emergency management agencies and the public they serve, while extending the community service role of public and commercial broadcasters alike," said Dr. Jong Kim, president of Zenith R&D Lab, the U.S. research and development subsidiary of LG Electronics.

LG reps said M-EAS using mobile DTV would significantly enhance current capabilities for sending emergency alerts, because it does not have bandwidth bottlenecks that might overload current or planned cellular systems with millions of devices attempting to receive the alerts simultaneously. Utilizing terrestrial "over-the-air" broadcast TV transmissions, rather than relying on cell phone systems, the M-EAS requires no additional spectrum and will be an additional use of existing TV transmitters and towers. Standard equipment used to upgrade stations for Mobile DTV transmission will be utilized.

Beyond life-saving emergency broadcasts and simple text alerts, the next-generation emergency alert system has far-reaching public safety benefits – both for first responders who need to access critical information, and for federal and state agencies to instantly reach millions of Americans with a single broadcast.

"With the Mobile EAS service, terrestrial broadcasters will be able to send everything from AMBER alert photos to detailed maps with evacuation routes, video clips, and extensive information that viewers anywhere/anytime will find invaluable in a disaster,” said PBS's McCoskey. “M-EAS goes way beyond a short text message on a cell phone network that may become congested in an emergency. It’s harnessing the power of ‘one-to-many’ transmissions from a TV broadcaster to the viewing audience.”