AWARN to the Rescue

Advanced emergency warning is on the way thanks to a 3.0 commitment from major broadcasters

Call it coincidence. Call it synchronicity. Call it whatever you want, but today three items crossed my desk that left me shaking my head.

First, Reuters’ Brian Snyder reported in “Lack of power, phones hampering rescue efforts after Hurricane Michael,” that hundreds of volunteers from Texas had headed to Florida to help locate more than 1,100 people—mostly in Panama City— who have gone missing following Hurricane Michael.

One of the leaders of the effort, however, told Reuters that spotty cell phone coverage in the aftermath of the hurricane has impeded the effort. Further, about 155,000 homes and businesses were without power, and 70 percent of customers in four rural counties in the Florida Panhandle remained without electricity as of Oct. 17. The day before, the government reported about 61 percent of cell sites in Bay County, Fla., were down, the story said.

Second, on the same day, TV Technology published my online op-ed “Hurricane Florence in A 5G World.”

In a nutshell, I made that case that in a 5G world a devastating hurricane or other disaster, restoration of wireless networks would be even harder than it is today.

I also argued that the advanced emergency warnings made possible by ATSC 3.0 and AWARN should be made available to wireless customers on their phones–whether that comes about through a deal struck by the broadcast and wireless industries or a federal mandate.

The third thing to happen on the same day was an announcement out of the NAB Show New York by major broadcast networks and station groups throwing their support behind the Next-Gen TV standard and committing to the introduction of ATSC 3.0–a significant step in a broadcast future where such decisions are voluntary.

Fox Television Stations, NBC- and Telemundo-owned stations, Univision, Pearl TV, a consortium of eight major station groups, and SpectrumCo, which includes mega-station groups Sinclair Broadcast Group and Nexstar Media Group, among others announced a collaborative effort and support for the launch of 3.0.

A joint announcement released by these broadcasters predicted 3.0 to be broadly launched by individual stations in 2020 as Next-Gen-enabled TVs hit retail stores.

In my mind, the thread that ties these separate items together is a simple idea: enhanced emergency alerting is on the way to the American public–regardless of the resiliency or lack thereof of cell sites and wireless networks.

In the not too distant future, a group like the one from Texas looking for unaccounted-for hurricane victims will be able to work with local broadcasters leveraging their AWARN rich-media capability to push photos, descriptions of the missing and other relevant information to the public.

Wireless companies could do their part by setting up Cells on Wheels (COWS), Cells on Light Trucks (COLTS) and generators on trucks (Goats) to reestablish coverage, while friends and neighbors of the unaccounted-for could direct those who have survived to relief centers where they could find cell phones to contact loved ones.

Who knows whether or not this exact scenario is the one that makes the most sense? But what is apparent is that AWARN can play a vital role and that major broadcasters are now committed to its rollout via 3.0.

For comprehensive coverage on ATSC 3.0, visit TV Technology's ATSC3 silo.

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.