The author is
vice president of business development for Digital Alert Systems.
Robertson. “LPFM stations … stand to play a valuable role in
exposing more people in more places to critical emergency alerts.”
The world of the
next-generation Emergency Alert System continues to be governed by
three undeniable axioms: Number one, EAS is not going away; number
two, regulations and requirements for EAS will continue to change;
and number three, broadcasters must comply.
With the addition of
Common Alerting Protocol capabilities and requirements, this
continuous change furthers the impression that all things EAS are in
a constant state of flux. In essence, the dust never truly settles.
Even now, the FCC is likely looking at additional rulemaking on
national EAS, having issued a broad request for comments on the past
Emergency Action Notification testing.
Because of these
continuous fluctuations, broadcasters must ensure that the EAS
equipment they have purchased is designed to keep up with changing
alerting requirements, and that suppliers they choose have the
expertise, stability and commitment necessary to support those
solutions over time.
broadcasters invest in EAS equipment as a platform that can be
adapted to meet changes in EAS requirements, such as possible
modifications on handling the EAN code, the possible use of the
National Periodic Test code, and even changes to the Federal
Information Processing Standard code and locations, as well as the
continuous changes and improvements of FEMA’s Integrated Public
Alert Warning System.
There are many
changes in the works! Inevitably, one or more of these things will
influence the functionality needed in EAS equipment and the way the
encoder/decoder must respond to the messages it receives, whether
from a federal, state or local emergency management organization.
continually evolving EAS environment (see image), one of the most
notable occurrences of late has been the rise of new low-power FM
stations. The recently concluded round of FCC filings has opened the
door for more of these stations, and their emergence represents some
of the most significant industry growth in quite some time. This is
important, not only because it offers smaller groups — often
churches and other organizations reaching out to a local listening
audience — an opportunity to gain a voice on the airwaves.
EAS/CAP receive/send ecosphere
With respect to EAS,
the growing number of LPFM stations is meaningful because along with
the acquisition of a slice of the broadcast spectrum, completion of
their transmitter installations and the launch of their broadcasts
comes the responsibility to provide EAS messages to their
In short, the
importance of LPFM stations to EAS is that these new broadcast
operations service areas that may not enjoy particularly strong
signals from other broadcasters. They stand to play a valuable role
in exposing more people in more places to critical emergency alerts.
The majority of new
LPFM stations are being built from scratch, and the current rules
dictate that they employ an EAS solution minimally capable of
decoding EAS/CAP emergency messages so they may receive alerts
properly and forward messages appropriately.
So, LPFM stations
clearly must participate in EAS, which requires having CAP-enabled
EAS equipment and Internet connectivity to monitor FEMA’s IPAWS.
However, LPFM stations have a bit of an economic advantage in that
they have the option to use a CAP/EAS decoder-only solution, which
can be less expensive than a conventional CAP/EAS encoder/decoder.
All of this means that LPFM stations should carefully evaluate their
EAS equipment and connectivity requirements and options.
As the three
irrefutable laws of EAS govern all U.S. broadcasters, LPFM stations
are not immune to the impact of technical and regulatory advances,
whether they present new opportunities or new challenges. Therefore,
it is equally important for these new broadcasting players to make
smart equipment decisions. Even a decoder-only system should be
equipped not only to address all current requirements, but also to
handle future requirements with easy-to-upgrade software. The system
also must support a range of interfaces and communication standards.
With the adoption of
CAP as an open standard for sending emergency information — the
underlying basis of FEMA’s IPAWS program — the messages that
stations receive via the familiar and well-established radio relay
EAS system may be augmented by CAP messages, which may include
supplemental text, photos, videos or audio. In fact, now that CAP is
in play, emergency managers at the state level are rediscovering
EAS/CAP as a great way to better communicate to the public. Several
states are adding CAP origination tools as they update their
emergency response plans.
Yet this new CAP and
related IP-based communication technology has stirred another sort of
dust storm as now any CAP-enabled device can conceivably receive
alerts from “anywhere.” The likely increase in the number of
“boundary” conditions — stations that are licensed in one
state or county yet operate across county or state lines, capable of
receiving alerts for their entire operating area — will expand.
In the past,
stations were more geographically bound by terrain and distance from
the EAS monitoring sources, but now CAP’s Internet-based
communications effectively eliminate these boundaries. The resulting
boundary confusion requires more detailed work among the bordering
states, along with their respective emergency managers, state
broadcast chairs and State Emergency Communications Committee
coordinators. Together, they will need to create plans that address
scenarios such as when an alert from one state should be communicated
by a station that happens to be located along the edge of the
So, radio’s future
continues to look bright. New players are joining the fold,
demonstrating the many virtues of radio while also strengthening
emergency communications within their communities. Equipped with
flexible EAS equipment, these radio broadcasters will join the ranks
of stations that efficiently and effectively provide critical
services to the listening public. Welcome aboard.
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