FCC Working Group Report ‘Re-imagines’ Emergency Alerting

WASHINGTON — A new report from a working group of the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) lays out a new vision for alerting the public in times of emergency and explores how the new ATSC 3.0 television standard can play a major role.

“The ATSC 3.0 (AKA Next Gen TV) standard holds the potential to not only vastly improve the broadcast television viewing experience and expand programming opportunities, but also enhance emergency communications capabilities and create new operational capabilities for broadcast stations,” it says.

The report, “Comprehensive Re-imagining of Emergency Alerting,” identifies three ways the Next Gen TV standard supports distribution of emergency information, including EAS support, advanced emergency services, such as Advanced Emergency Alerting (AEA), and CAP (Common Alerting Protocol) relay via 3.0’s native IP transport capability.

[Read: Public TV Raises Concern Over Possible WEA Enhancement]

The standard’s support for advanced emergency information services offers “a powerful tool” to target any type of emergency information beyond typical emergency alerts to TV viewers. “This is an informational service capable of conveying a broad range of urgent information bulletins and updates to targeted audiences,” the report says.

When it comes to Advanced Emergency Alerting, 3.0 offers broadcasters a way to reach fixed, mobile and portable consumer devices with audience-targeted messages, alerts flexible enough for nearly any form of emergency information, location-targeted alerts, support for multimedia content such as graphics, photos, maps and video, alert updates, multilingual messaging and a wake-up signal to awaken receivers in standby or sleep mode, it says.

The report notes that 3.0 deployment is voluntary and that the working group expects EAS “to continue to provide its essential functions for national and local public alert and warning.” It envisions 3.0-based alerting as “a value-added function from television broadcasters.”

Among the other topics covered in the document is the role PBS and local public television stations play in helping to protect communities by datacasting to deliver information to individuals and first responders.

The report lays out the main features of PBS-WARN, which takes advantage of the nationwide public TV interconnection system to provide for a nationwide emergency alerting network that serves as a redundant backup path for the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) C interface, which is technologically diverse from the Commercial Mobile Service Provider’s primary WEA gateway.

The document describes various instances of public broadcasters partnering with first responders in different locales to enable responders to send information and video via datacasts in emergency situations. Instances noted in the report include OEAS Public Alertnet with ties to all eight Ohio public TV licenses and their 12 stations, as well as other examples in Alabama, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada and Texas.

The working group’s report notes public TV stations choosing to deploy Next Gen TV will be able to provide even more robust emergency alert and communications service to first responders and the public. For example, 3.0 will allow them to operate more efficiently in terms of TV bandwidth usage, which could allow additional Common Alert Protocol feeds of national, regional and statewide data pertaining to alerts.

“Because PBS has already implemented an intersection of traditional broadcast and cellular technologies through the nationwide PBS-WARN system, we believe that public media has shown itself [to] be an ideal vehicle for projects which explore alerting and the intersection of the next generations of traditional broadcast (ATSC 3.0) and Cellular Mobile Service (5G),” says the report.

America’s Public Television Stations (APTS) issued a statement July 19 lauding the report. “The extraordinary technological achievement of ATSC 3 will enhance public safety communications and interoperability capabilities for law enforcement. Public television is already experimenting with the new services this broadcast standard makes possible,” says Patrick Butler, APTS president and CEO.

The report is available on the FCC website.

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Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.