Four PBS Stations Named to Run Mobile DTV Emergency Alert Pilot Test

WASHINGTON: Four PBS member stations in far-flung markets will be the first to participate in a pilot test of the Mobile DTV emergency alert system.

WGBH-TV in Boston, KLVX-TV in Las Vegas, and Alabama Public Television stations WBIQ-TV in Birmingham and WAIQ-TV in Montgomery will participate in the program, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and LG Electronics. LG is a primary manufacturer of receivers that decode ATSC M/H, the transmission standard for mobile broadcast digital television.

“If we’re successful, the results of the pilot will help usher in a new era of mobile alerting systems. They will be extremely valuable to federal, state and local emergency management agencies and the publics they serve and will extend the community service role of public and commercial broadcasters alike. We welcome the leadership of PBS stations to serve as the ‘test bed’ for these rich-media emergency transmissions,” said Dr. Jong Kim, president of Zenith R&D Lab, the U.S. research and development subsidiary of LG.

PBS announced its intention to test a next-generation EAS system this year during the NAB show in April in Las Vegas. The goal is to feed EAS information to platforms of all types, from cellphones, tablet computers, laptops and netbooks to in-car navigation systems. The new Mobile Emergency Alert System will comprise video, audio, text and graphics.

The mobile system, like the fixed EAS broadcast network, will be a platform for AMBER alerts and photos of children and their alleged abductors, emergency information, including maps and escape routes, live video and other details.

“This goes way beyond just a text message on a congested cellphone network,” said John McCoskey, chief technology officer at PBS. “It’s harnessing the power of ‘one-to-many’ transmissions from a TV broadcaster to the viewing audience.”

Cellphone service providers announced last May they would launch emergency text alerts in New York City by the end of this year. The Personal Localized Alerting Network works only on GPS-enabled smartphones for three types of alerts: Presidential, life-threatening and AMBER Alerts. PLAN enables service providers to push texts of 90 characters or less to specific cell towers.

AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon agreed to participate, though they can opt out of all but presidential alerts since the program is voluntary for wireless carriers.

McCoskey said the goal of the M-EAS project was to develop a system that can be “easily replicated by both public and commercial broadcasters throughout the country.” Since ATSC M/H incorporates Internet Protocol, it has the flexibility of streaming, data and non-real-time delivery as well as live broadcasting.

The date of the pilot program launch was not announced.
~ Deborah D. McAdams