Nationwide EAS Test Tally Reveals Decline in TV Performance

WASHINGTON—The numbers are in from the September 2017 National EAS Test, and they reveal a falloff in performance by television broadcasters when compared to the previous year.

A report issued last week by the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau tabulates and analyzes reports submitted by various media, including radio, TV broadcast, cable TV, IPTV and wireline, about their test performance.

TV broadcasters were “the least successful participants” in the nationwide test, the report said. It found 88.6 percent of TV participants successfully received the alert, and 83.5 percent successfully retransmitted it. The 2017 TV performance “shows a significant decrease as compared to 2016 when 97.3 percent successfully received the alert and 85.3 percent were able to retransmit,” the report said.

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Overall, 98.5 percent of participants successfully received the test alert compared to 95.4 percent in 2016. Nearly 92 percent of participants successfully retransmitted the test alert, up from 85.8 percent in the previous national test, the report said.

FEMA, in coordination with the FCC and the National Weather Service, conducted the nationwide test, which was the third of its kind, on Sept. 27, 2017. While intended to test the overall effectiveness and reliability of the system, special emphasis was given to testing FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which acts as the gateway to disseminate Common Alerting Protocol-formatted EAS alerts, it said.

A total of 58.1 percent of participants reported first receiving the test over-the-air as opposed to via the internet from the IPAWS server, up from the 56.5 percent reporting over-the-air test reception in 2016. Participants that receive the test over the air are not able to deliver CAP-formatted digital audio, Spanish and text files, which provide greater accessibility for non-English speakers and those with disabilities, the report noted.

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There are about 22,922 EAS participants in the United States and its territories. Of those, 19,738 unique test filings were submitted, a participation rate of 76.2 percent. Several factors, including severe weather, wildfires and the aftermath of hurricanes, contributed to the falloff in participation from 2016 when 21,365 unique filings were submitted, according to the report.

TV broadcasters had the lowest participation rate in 2017 with 68.5 percent; cable TV, IPTV and wireline showed significant increased participation of 74 percent, up from 52.9 percent in 2016; and the participation rate for radio achieved 78.5 percent, it said.

Overall, the 2017 FCC defined the test was as a “success” and a demonstration that the EAS system has strengthened since the 2016 test, the report said. Signs of improvement include increased success of low-power FM stations in receiving and retransmitting alerts; a better understanding of EAS roles; a higher rate of configuring equipment to monitor IPAWS; higher retransmission rates with no complications; and fewer complications, the report said.

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.