Emergency alerting officials in Minnesota will get a half-hour shot at simultaneously testing their local emergency alert and wireless alert systems this June.
The Department of Public Safety within the State of Minnesota requested authority from the Federal Communications Commission so that EAS participants and commercial mobile service providers could conduct a combined live Emergency Alert System and end-to-end Wireless Emergency Alert test on Wednesday, June 18 from 6:30 to 7 pm Central time.
An EAS test will be sent out using the Civil Danger Warning event code in Stevens County, Minn., with participation from eight surrounding counties. At the same time, a related test of WEA will be sent only to the city of Morris, Minn.
According to the state’s Emergency Communication Networks department, recent events in Hawaii demonstrate that it is essential that the public be familiar with WEA and EAS and that emergency managers be proficient both with the operation of the systems and with the decision-making processes that may need to be made before initiation of an actual alert.
The department told the FCC that the test would allow the state to build on its existing training and create a template and best practice plan for future testing of WEA and EAS. The overall goal of the test is to ensure that the WEA and EAS systems will work during an emergency, the group said.
The proposed WEA test message will read “This is a test of Stevens County Wireless Emergency Alerts. No action is required,” while the EAS test message will say “This is a test of the Stevens County Emergency Alert System. If there had been an actual emergency, further instructions would have followed, this is only a test. No action is required.”
Ensuring that the public is aware that this is only a test is a priority, the state agency told the FCC. The state agency said it set up a pretest outreach and coordination plan to ensure public understanding that the event is a test. The plan will be shared with public information officers in all affected areas, to first responder organizations, and distributed to traditional and social media outlets.
The state agency also said it would provide the FCC with a detailed account of any issues that occur in the distribution of the WEA and EAS tests.
The commission agreed to provide a waiver for conducting such a test in part because this instance will simultaneous involve testing of both the EAS and WEA. FCC rules otherwise prohibit unauthorized use of the WEA and EAS systems.
“We believe that a coordinated and combined test of the two systems is a likely reflection of what would occur in an actual emergency, i.e., that both WEA and the EAS would be used,” the FCC said in granting the waiver.
The FCC also noted the benefit in completing such a test of the WEA now as opposed to after May 2019, a move that may help ensure that WEA and the EAS can be effectively deployed in a coordinated manner during an emergency.
At its Jan. 30 Open Meeting, the FCC set a deadline of May 1, 2019, for wireless providers to support Spanish-language messages in WEA and extend the length of alert messages from 90 to 360 characters. A second deadline, for establishing an enhanced geotargeting and keeping messages available on mobile devices for 24 hours, is set for Nov. 30, 2019. Both were made in an effort to promote the wider use and effectiveness of WEA, particularly for state and local authorities to convey critical messages to their communities.
A similar waiver was granted earlier this year to In the Vail Public Safety Communications Center in Colorado to allow wireless providers to participate in a WEA test on May 2, 2018.
Comments are still being accepted in the FCC ECFS database for those wishing to weigh in on the feasibility of including multimedia content in WEA messages. Those comments can be submitted by May 29 in the FCC ECFS database using Docket 15-91. Reply comments will be due by June 11.
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.
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