M-EAS year-long pilot project demonstrates system viability, says backers

The year-long field trial of the Mobile Emergency Alert System (M-EAS) pilot project shows broadcasters may soon have a way to combine rich media and mobile DTV to better inform the public, particularly those on the go, during an emergency.

According to Jim Kutzner, senior director of advanced technology for PBS and a key broadcaster leading the M-EAS trial, the backwards-compatible M-EAS system will soon go to the Advanced Television Systems Committee for standardization. (Editor’s note: A video interview conducted with Kutzner regarding the progress of M-EAS is available on the Broadcast Engineering website.)

Field trials were conducted in Massachusetts, Alabama and Nevada. The pilot project was led by PBS and LG Electronics and cofounded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Other participants included Harris and Roundbox.

LG is readying M-EAS-equipped mobile DTV receiving devices, and Harris Broadcast is finalizing broadcast equipment designs to support a nationwide commercial deployment of M-EAS service, expected by 2014.

During the 2012 NAB Show in mid-April, the new M-EAS system was on display at Mobile DTV Pavilion. Prototype LG mobile phones shown there offer audio and visual indications of emergency alerts, as well as vibration to notify users, including those who might be visually impaired, about an emergency.

During the NAB Show, Vegas PBS — one of four PBS stations participating in the M-EAS Pilot Project — transmitted mobile DTV signals with rich media emergency alert content for simulated national and local emergency scenarios, including a “suspicious package threat,” an “approaching tornado,” an “AMBER Alert” and “impending tsunami.”

The new alerting application developed during the year-long pilot project capitalizes on existing standards for implementation. The ATSC A/153 Mobile DTV Standard uses Internet Protocol (IP) at its core. The use of IP allows the new application to be flexible and extensible. Data delivery, non-real-time delivery and electronic service guides are all included.