First responders test emergency alerts for Mobile DTV

The Mobile-Emergency Alert System (M-EAS) is part of a yearlong pilot project using prototype equipment.
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PBS and several of its technology partners gave first responders a demonstration this week of how EAS could work using the ASTC’s Mobile Digital Television standard (“A/153”). The demo was conducted at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) in Minneapolis.

The Mobile-Emergency Alert System (M-EAS) is part of a yearlong pilot project using prototype equipment deployed in Massachusetts, Alabama and Nevada via public television stations. It was shown earlier this year at the NAB and CES conventions. This time the demo was available to about 5000 officials attending the public safety conference.

Backers of the project are the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), LG Electronics and Harris Broadcast. PBS is providing the broadcast facilities, LG developed the M-EAS mobile phone receivers and Harris manufactures equipment to equip the broadcast stations for emergency transmissions.

The system can transmit video, text, evacuation maps and other materials to users during an emergency using the Mobile DTV frequencies. The prototype LG mobile phones used in the demo offered not only audio and visual indications of emergency alerts, but also included a vibrating mode to notify users of an impending emergency.

M-EAS requires no additional spectrum for broadcasters and uses standard Mobile DTV equipment. The Advanced Television Systems Committee is working on a modification to the mobile DTV standard that would make it easier to deliver these alerts over the system.

“M-EAS easily overlays an entire metropolitan area with a signal that is not dependent on mobile wireless network infrastructure,” said John Lawson, executive director of the Mobile500 Alliance group. “It effectively bypasses bottlenecks caused by congestion and will deliver rich-media content to mobile phones, tablets and APCO-25 standardized emergency responder radios.”

If deployed, M-EAS will deliver multimedia alerts to mobile DTV-equipped cellphones, tablets, laptops, netbooks and in-car navigation systems in a way that won’t interfere with cellular communications during emergencies.

John McCoskey, PBS’s chief technology officer, said the M-EAS system would be complementary with the current cellular-based system that transmits 90-character texts to mobile phones.

“Mobile television can be an effective way to reach millions of people with a single highly-robust broadcast, without relying on access to an overburdened wireless mobile network,” McCoskey said. “We believe that the new ATSC Mobile DTV system can be harnessed to do far more than just the delivery of linear TV channels.”

M-EAS is designed for incorporation into the U.S. Integrated Public Alert and Warning System and is compliant with the international Common Alerting Protocol.