PBS to leverage mobile DTV to send emergency information

PBS will test next-generation emergency technology later this year that could include audio, video and text messaging via IP signals sent via the ATSC A/153 Mobile DTV standard.

As a proof-of-concept to illustrate one of the “killer apps” that the industry has been talking about since the inception of the mobile DTV standard, PBS will feed Emergency Alert System (EAS) information to a variety of mobile platforms, including smart phones, computer tablets, laptops, in-car navigation systems and devices that incorporate the required ATSC Mobile DTV receiver chip. Thus far these chips have been in short supply.

PBS said the pilot project would test capabilities designed to lead to a comprehensive new Mobile Emergency Alert System (MEAS), part of the first major overhaul of the nation’s aging EAS platform. The new system will use the Common Alert Protocol (CAP) to send the alerts as news breaks.

“As a leader in digital-only broadcasting, PBS has been involved in testing digital broadcasting as a part of an upgraded emergency system since 2005,” said John McCoskey, PBS’ chief technology officer. “Now that the transition to digital is complete and mobile DTV is rolling out, PBS will harness mobile DTV’s powerful distribution system to provide new means of alerting Americans in the event of an emergency.”

PBS identified key partners to support the pilot project, including LG Electronics and its U.S. R&D subsidiary, Zenith, which will develop handheld mobile DTV devices with the ATSC chips to receive the new alerts and will provide funding for the project. Also working with PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) is providing matching grants to local public television stations for mobile DTV broadcasting equipment. PBS said it plans to announce stations for the pilot project in the near future.

PBS’ multimedia mobile DTV pilot project will use terrestrial broadcasting instead of cellular network connectivity, complementing the current cellular-based system PBS is deploying with the support of the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration and with the cooperation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This system transmits 90-character emergency text messages to commercial mobile carriers.

PBS plans to work closely with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, the FCC and other agencies in devising and implementing the pilot project.

“We want to create a mechanism that can be easily replicated, allowing any broadcaster to send emergency information that is CAP-compliant, that is integrated into the IPAWS system, and that can reliably reach on-the-go Americans in the ways they access other information today,” added McCoskey.