FCC moves to update Emergency Alert System

The FCC has adopted a rule that requires participants in the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to accept messages using Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), the groundwork for a new digital EAS delivery system.

CAP employs an open and interoperable standard, standardizes message formats and enables a digital alert or warning to be distributed simultaneously over multiple distribution platforms.

The FCC’s rule requires use of the new technology no later than 180 days after FEMA announces system protocols. The order also expands the EAS system by requiring participation by wireline video providers.

“It is critical that our public safety rules, like our competition rules, be technologically neutral,” said FCC chairman Kevin Martin. “Thus, all platform providers should have the same obligations to notify the public of emergency situations. After all, video programming viewers expect to receive an emergency alert regardless of whether they subscribe to a cable, DBS or any wireline video service.”

The FCC said the use of CAP would help to ensure the efficient and rapid transmission of EAS alerts to the American public in a variety of formats (including text, audio and video) and via different means (broadcast, cable, satellite and other networks) to promote the development of the next generation of EAS.

One result of these developments will be wider access to EAS alerts for people with disabilities and for non-English speakers. The FCC now seeks comment on how to best deliver EAS alerts to these groups, and said it would adopt a final order within six months.

The commission’s order also requires terrestrial EAS participants to transmit state and locally targeted EAS alerts that are originated by governors or their designees.

The FCC said it intended to ensure that, once established, the system actually works. As to how, commissioner Michael Copps said, “the answer may involve additional testing, licensee certification or after-the-fact reviews of system performance. Whatever the method, however, the American public deserves an EAS system that it can count on when the next hurricane or terrorist attack occurs.”