Richard Rudman is vice chair of the
California EAS State Emergency Communications Committee and a core member of
the Broadcast Warning Working Group. He knows EAS well from involvement in local,
state and national emergency public information planning for more than 25
years. From 2000 to 2002 he served as the last chair of the FCC’s EAS National
He’s an important voice in the world of the Emergency
Alerting System so I asked him his thoughts, given all that has transpired in
Richard, what should radio engineers be thinking and doing
right now in regards to EAS?
First, everyone needs to check with the manufacturer of
their new EAS equipment to make sure they have software updates installed that
will be able to poll the IPAWS ATOM server by the June 2012 deadline.
After receiving comments on the liabilities of RSS feeds,
FEMA listened and changed to ATOM feeds. When that happened, all manufacturers
needed to implement a new operational selection for FEMA IPAWS ATOM. As of Dec.
13, not all manufacturers had released the required software to poll a CAP ATOM
Second, broadcasters need to actively participate in
updating their local EAS plans. I have always looked at LECCs as “committees of
the whole” that have a few worker-bees who write and maintain what is needed
for each locale. Everyone in every market should at least take an active
interest in what the LECC will come up with.
Third, licensees in states without a clearly mapped-out CAP
strategy need to work with their local broadcaster and cable associations so
CAP implementation for local and state EAS can happen.
With the current economy, the best (and possibly highly
provocative) question to ask state and local governments in discussions is,
“What value do you place on warning people at risk so they might be able to
take better protective actions to preserve lives and property?” Value equals
money, time and effort invested by government into creating a viable warning
Fourth, we need to find out if we want to cripple CAP EAS
any longer than necessary by preserving legacy EAS SAME messaging.
If we really want to improve public warnings by taking full
advantage of CAP messaging, we need to come up with a near-term transition
strategy to retire legacy EAS SAME messaging. This is unfortunately an issue
that broadcasters who bought add-on CAP devices for their legacy EAS equipment
may not be happy with.
On the other side of the argument, some of us believe that
allowing CAP converters to be built and offered for sale was a mistake. One
thought: Considering the age of first-generation EAS SAME equipment, problems
with their power supplies, printers, etc., purchasers of CAP converter devices
may have just postponed the inevitable: purchase of a 100-percent CAP-capable
Fifth, we know we have a serious issue with cable override
of on-air television stations during EAS events. Not all cable systems can do
selective override. I would suggest our goal (including the FCC) should be to assure
that EAS and follow-on emergency information broadcast by on-air stations is
not interrupted, while also assuring that all EAS events come to the attention
of cable viewers with “crawl” information that really tells viewers what is
While I am aware that the cable industry is aware this is a
problem and cable experts are working on it, the reality is that fixing this
for all systems will have to wait for the next generation of head-end equipment
and set-top boxes to be rolled out.
When the next generation of cable head end and set-top
replacement equipment is available, I hope that CAP awareness can be built into
the set-top converters so they will be true “warning appliances” apart from
video monitors hooked to them. Where that to happen, set-top converters could
store and forward EAS events, trigger alarms for the hearing and sight-impaired
communities, and have the ability to be user-programmed to wake people up in
the middle of the night.
What’s your assessment of the success of the national EAS test?
We do EAS tests to expose problems with the goal of fixing
what’s broken and also making overall improvements to assure alerts and
warnings will get through. Tests are tests. The only failed test in my opinion
is a test that does not take place.
However, results of tests can be graded. From that point of
view, the data-gathering portion national EAS test was a success since it gives
us benchmark data for what is in place now that will help us improve in the
future. The jury will have to remain out on the success of mitigation until we
do another test. The next test will almost assuredly find other problems that
will have to be addressed.
What conclusions did you take away from the recent FEMA
I think many broadcasters were disappointed that more
specific details on the audio loop-back issue were not outlined. Everyone needs
to understand that some parts of EAN origination take place within the
boundaries of national security. So, it would do more harm than good to give
out too many details that could float around the Internet to be exploited. I
have confidence that the people close to the process in FEMA will make sure
that there will be no audio loop-back problems for the next test.
The webinar did reinforce the strength and value of the
across-the-board cooperation between EAS stakeholders that led up to the test.
A large number of people have so far contributed to best practices and other
information we will all need to have as the EAS improvement process continues,
and the webinar did a good job recognizing this fact. The webinar was also an
opportunity to recognize all those who have devoted the better part of their
recent working lives to carry out this first-ever national live code test.
As some of your readers know, FEMA has a few people working
on EAS issues who have great broadcast experience. I would go as far as to say
that without these people, FEMA would have been severely challenged to conduct
such a test in partnership with broadcast and cable stakeholders.
What are the next important steps for the industry to watch for
in the world of EAS, CAP and IPAWS?
First, release and testing of ATOM feed software by EAS
equipment manufacturers. Second, release of the FCC’s rewrite of Part 11.
Third, activities concerning rewrite of local and state EAS plans.
Then, plans for state and even local CAP servers, followed
by activity to reinforce what we all know is a highly vulnerable and
un-resilient Internet distribution structure for CAP messages, both nationally
and locally. And then, CAP-awareness built into end-user radios, TVs and
cable/satellite set-top boxes, to turn them in to “warning appliances.”
What should other EAS stakeholders do differently in future to
improve this system?
I do not see a dividing line between broadcasting and other
stakeholders. For EAS improvements to happen, we need a new public/private
partnership that includes all stakeholders. There is pending legislation in
Congress offered by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to support this effort.
However, apart from that, I would like to see more broadcasters learn
“Emergency Management 101” and more emergency managers learn “Broadcasting 101”
so we can all work together more effectively.
Is the EAS system unfairly maligned? If so, what
would you say to its critics?
EAS works where local broadcasters have teamed with local
emergency management, weather service and other stakeholders to make it work.
The complaints and complainers all seem to be in places where no partnerships
exist, or they have fallen apart.
What I would say is that everyone who embraces the goal of
saving more lives and property by issuing more timely and accurate EAS warnings
needs to get on the same side of the rock and push in the same direction. I
think there are enough of us already on the right side of the rock, so I would
issue my own respectful but clear “warning” to those standing on the other side
to get out of the way.
Other thoughts at this juncture?
Gary Timm came up with a seminal
document several years ago he named the EAS Roadmap. In it he laid out
formation of various working groups that would work on how we could implement
enhancements to the EAS. The pending legislation I mentioned may be able to lay
out where the road goes now by putting in place a new broad-based stakeholder
group to advise the government. This group could build on the model we
developed for the Partnership for Public Warning back after Sept. 11.
This pending legislation could also reinforce putting EAS
warning training solidly into existing federal emergency management training
programs. This single effort has a fighting chance to win over more emergency
managers as to the true value of better warnings to support their efforts
during emergency response.
Finally, we can all benefit from efforts to support the
circulation of day-to-day EAS two-way information that we all need to both
educate ourselves, and to let us answer questions others need to have answered.
Among these are your publication, the Broadcast Warning Working Group’s EAS
Forum, the SBE’s EAS list and Gary Timm’s AWARE forum. The NAB and the National
Alliance of State Broadcaster Associations also have sites and pages for EAS
support. For more information, all of the above can be “Googled.”
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