FCC to Take Up Contentious Blue Alert Order in December

Blue Alert concept has strong backing but not all agree

The Federal Communications Commission is gearing up to address what’s proving to be a controversial issue surrounding EAS alerting.

At its upcoming Open Meeting on Dec. 14, the FCC plans to consider a Report and Order that would amend the commission’s Emergency Alert System rules to add a dedicated event code called the Blue Alert. This new code type (known as BLU) would be delivered over EAS and Wireless Emergency Alert systems and is designed to alert the public about law enforcement officer incidents.

For example, a Blue Alert could be sent out when there is an imminent threat to a law enforcement officer or if the public should be notified of some actionable information. The EAS code would be sent out through broadcast, cable, satellite and wireline video services as well as through the existing WEA system to mobile devices.

The concept has been praised by law enforcement groups, including the Department of Justice, which said the alerts would “dramatically improve the effectiveness” of the department’s new National Blue Alert Network. The department initiated this network after two New York Police Department officers were killed in an ambush attack in 2014.

Some commenters on the commission’s ongoing effort to amend Part 11 of the EAS rules have praised the effort, saying the assignment of a dedicated, monitored EAS event code for Blue Alerts is critical to effective alerting, particularly if it is able to be sent automatically.

The National Association of Broadcasters also supports the implementation of the new alert codes, saying that the AMBER Alert program provides a useful model for implementation. The NAB agrees with the FCC’s proposed implementation period of six months as long as a waiver process is available for broadcasters that face unexpected delays in introducing the new code.

But others have expressed reservations, calling the decision political sop, a waste of resources, and a move that could potentially encourage vigilante behavior.

The Washington State Emergency Communications Committee put it succinctly in its comment filing with the FCC. “[This agency] believes an Emergency Alert System ‘BLU’ Alert Code is unneeded and would have a negative effect on EAS where it is adopted.”

The organization said that not only are effective, existing methods already in place for informing citizen about urgent situations, but adding a new code would increase citizen confusion and would put undue burdens on broadcasters, “especially radio stations … and [those] in situations where EAS sending and receiving equipment is operated at remote locations.”

Yet FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that the alerts would help protect America's law enforcement officers. “They put their lives on the line each and every day to protect us,” he wrote in his most recent blog. “Those of us in government — including the FCC — owe it to them to do whatever we can to keep them safe.”

Pai said a Blue Alert would warn the public if a violent suspect is in their community, as well as offer information on how to contact authorities.

The item is part of the commission’s ongoing efforts to amend rules around the nation’s Emergency Alert System (Docket No. 15-94). The December meeting is set for 10:30 a.m. Eastern on Dec. 19 and can be viewed via live stream at www.fcc.gov/live.

 



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