Nationwide EAS Test Results Reveal Strong TV/Cable Participation

WASHINGTON—Two messages seem to have been transmitted loud and clear after the most recent EAS/WEA national alert test. One, that participation in national EAS tests is a priority. And two, that participants are committed to sending the alert in both the English and Spanish languages.

It was back in October that the Federal Emergency Management Agency conducted another nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System and the first ever nationwide Wireless Emergency Alert, which was delivered to mobile devices.

At 2:18 p.m. Eastern on Oct. 3, FEMA sent a WEA test message to WEA-capable wireless devices throughout the United States and territories; immediately following, FEMA conducted a live test of the EAS to EAS participants. That message was transmitted in English and Spanish and included both a text message and audio.

All participating mobile service providers were required to participate in the WEA portion of the test, while all EAS participants — including thousands of radio stations, TV stations and cable providers —were required to participate in the EAS piece.

According to results recently released by the FCC, 95.5% of EAS participants successfully received the National Periodic Test code used for the test, while 91.8% successfully retransmitted the test. Those numbers are consistent with the participation levels observed in the 2017 nationwide EAS test.

Of the 2,621 television broadcasters who were 2018 test participants, 89.3% of those received the test (thumbs up to those 2,340 stations). Of those, 84% went on to successfully retransmit the alert. Both of those numbers are down an average of 1 percentage point from the receive/transmit levels in 2017.

Kudos to cable system operators who had the highest percentage of reception and transmission in the 2018 test. Of the 2,792 who were supposed to receive and transmit the test, 97.8% of those participated in the test. More than 91% of those cable MSOs then went on to retransmit the alert.

There were slight improvements in other areas. Nearly 91% of test participants who filed their Form Three (which gives detailed data to the FCC on what happened after the test) reported no complications in receiving the test, up from 89% in 2017. A total of 89% reported no complications in retransmitting the test, a figure up slightly from 88% in 2017.

This year, a significantly larger number of test participants reported to have retransmitted the Spanish language version of the alert. In 2018, 756 test participants retransmitted the alert as it was generated through the IPAWS system, up from only 207 participants in 2017.

This time around, transmission of the test to mobile devices made a lot of headlines. This was the first nationwide test of the WEA system and though data is still coming in, the FCC has determined that the test did at least successfully demonstrate that a WEA can be delivered nationwide.

But there were a few cases of inefficient reception.

Through local emergency management agencies, news reports and feedback from the FCC’s Public Safety Support Center (PSSC), the FCC and FEMA found that approximately 72% of respondents reported receiving the WEA test message. Of the 361 responses that were filed voluntarily with the PSSC, approximately 61% reported no problems in receiving a WEA. The remaining 39% either did not receive a WEA or received one that had issues, such as receiving multiple messages or having problems with the tone or vibration cadence.

Mixed reports came from news agencies across the country.

In the Pacific Northwest, subscribers with several networks, including AT&T and T-Mobile, reported being unable to download data or use their apps for hours after receiving the presidential test alert.

In other cases, participating wireless providers did not successfully deliver the WEA test message at all, while other users indicated that WEA receipt was uneven — some individuals received the alert while others in the same region did not. One journalist revealed that, in the case of his two personal phones, one received the alert twice, while the other did not receive the message at all.

The FCC and FEMA said in a joint release that they will continue to analyze the results and release more detailed findings when available.

Susan Ashworth

Susan Ashworth is the former editor of TV Technology. In addition to her work covering the broadcast television industry, she has served as editor of two housing finance magazines and written about topics as varied as education, radio, chess, music and sports. Outside of her life as a writer, she recently served as president of a local nonprofit organization supporting girls in baseball.