FEMA commits to digital EAS

The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved a grant of $5 million to the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) for deployment of a digital emergency alert system (DEAS) to 356 public television stations by the end of next year.

The announcement of the grant comes on the heels of completion the second phase of testing, which focused on using digital datacasting via a network of public broadcasters to distribute alert information. Encrypted test messages from the Department of Homeland Security were sent from an access point at WETA, the public broadcaster in Washington, D.C., to datacast receivers at PBS.

PBS turned the test messages around, distributing them over its satellite system to 25 local public broadcasters participating in the test. The local stations verified transmission of the encrypted message.

According to test organizers, datacasting offers an attractive method for distribution of digital emergency alert messages. It offers nearly instant message delivery as opposed to other means, such as the Internet, which can experience undesired delays due to network congestion. The datacasting model also lets authorities target specific, encrypted messages to desired recipients without exposing their private communications to the general public. Additionally, the new digital system would allow authorities to warn the public via cell phone, pager and other handheld wireless devices in the event of an emergency.

The initial phase of the two-year project included PBS, WETA, 25 public television stations across the country, the FCC and NOAA, APTS and FEMA, as well as commercial television and cable stations and the cellular, paging and radio industries. Professional services firm SpectraRep provided technology and management consulting services to the television stations.

In summarizing the project, APTS president and CEO John Lawson said public television is using this digital television transmission technology to “roll out a new generation of content and services” for Americans. “We’ve always been about enhancing lives. Now we can help save lives as well,” he said.

For more information, visit www.apts.org.