New alert can be issued whenever imminent danger to law enforcement officers

WASHINGTON--This is the first full week that alert originators can begin to issue the new Blue Alert event code. In January 2018, the Federal Communications Commission amended its rules regarding EAS and WEA emergency alert codes and voted to add a new code — known by its moniker B L U. This new alert can be used whenever there is imminent danger to a law enforcement officer, such as when an officer is injured, missing and in cases where there is fear of potential injury to law enforcement officers.

Although the new code is now on the books, it’s not mandatory that alert originators use it.

When the FCC moved to amend EAS rules in December 2017 by adding the new event code, the industry had mixed views on the necessity of such a decision. Many comments in the FCC’s ECFS database were critical, with one individual calling the move a “purely political sop” to police organizations, saying there’s no need for an EAS code that “nobody will use.”

The decision to add the code was led by the Department of Justice after two New York City Police detectives were killed in the line of duty in 2014. The new alert codes were put in place to help protect officers, said Chairman Ajit Pai at the time. “We owe [these detectives] and their brave family members who come here today a tremendous debt of gratitude,” Pai said. “[The] FCC attempts to do that today by adopting rules that police officers across America and the communities they so proudly serve will be better protected.”

The order states that state and local agencies have the option to send warnings to the public via EAS broadcast or through the Wireless Emergency Alert system to consumers’ wireless phones. As with Amber Alerts and weather alerts, usage of this code will be voluntary on a case by case basis.

The official go-date for the delivery of Blue Alerts over EAS was Jan. 18, 2019, and broadcast groups like the Alabama Broadcast Association (ABA) encouraged its members to begin to code their EAS equipment to include the Blue Alert. According to Sharon Tinsley, president of ABA, the state’s main law enforcement group, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, does plan to use the alerts when needed.

In response, EAS software manufacturers have been prepping. Digital Alert Systems DasDec users will be able to access the BLU event code as part of the company’s v4.0 software update. Trilithic/Viavi includes the BLU event code in its v18.10 software update. Gorman-Redlich said it has a update, and requests that stations contact their office for details. Sage Endec users are being told that update firmware will be available this week.

Broadcasters and cable operators are also being asked to watch for additional information updates from their individual state emergency communication committees.

Under the order, state and local agencies have the option to send warnings to the public either through EAS broadcast or through the Wireless Emergency Alert system to consumers’ wireless phones. As with Amber Alerts and weather alerts, usage of this Blue Alert code will be voluntary on a case by case basis.