What should the FCC’s priorities for the Emergency Alert System be, now that the commission has issued its Sixth Report and Order on EAS?
One interested party is the Broadcast Warning Working Group, whose members include several leaders of the U.S. broadcast alerting community. The group has submitted specific suggestions to the FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.
“We believe there is time for all of us to work with the FCC and other federal partners to build on not only what the FCC has announced in the current Report and Order, but to act forthwith on many open EAS issues — some dating back more than a decade,” the group states on its website.
The purpose of the BWWG is to “provide information, answer questions and otherwise assist broadcasters and emergency management personnel in understanding and implementing EAS technology, FCC rules and operating procedures.” Its core members are Adrienne Abbott, chair, Nevada SECC; Clay Freinwald, chair, Washington SECC; Suzanne Goucher, president, Maine Association of Broadcasters; Barry Mishkind, editor, Broadcasters Desktop Resource; David Ostmo, director of engineering, KABB/KMYS-TV; Richard Rudman, vice chair, California SECC; Gary Timm, broadcast chair, Wisconsin SECC; and Sharon Tinsley, president, Alabama Broadcasters’ Association.
I emailed with the group’s leadership to learn more, for an item on the Radio World website. I wanted to share their answers here as well.
RW: What is BWWG’s overall reaction to the FCC’s R&O on EAS?
BWWG: The implementation of the “all zeros” national location code and parameters for the National Periodic Test event code are welcome steps toward standardizing how all EAS devices should respond to the Federal level of the EAS. Expansion of the Electronic Test Reporting System to include EAS monitoring assignments was supported by the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council and will be of value to State Emergency Communication Committees as well as the commission. We also have high hopes for the opportunity to provide input at the FCC workshop which the R&O stipulates must be held by Sept. 1, 2015.
RW: The immediate question from radio managers is: “What do I need to do with my EAS gear, and when?”
BWWG: The first deadline is Jan. 30, 2016, when new visual display rules will be in effect regarding the size, color, contrast, location and speed of EAS text displays. While most of these rules are subjective and left up to EAS participants to adjust for best readability, stations will need to check with their communications counsel for interpretation of compliance with these new rules.
Secondly, by July 30, 2016, all EAS participants must have the “all zeros” national location code programmed into their EAS unit to react with the NPT and Emergency Action Notification event codes. In addition, by that date, EAS units must be programmed to immediately forward alerts coded with the NPT event code. Timelines regarding compliance with EAS participant data entry into ETRS will be announced when that database launches.
RW: BWWG followed up the FCC order by asking the commission to prioritize certain issues. What is at the top of your list and why?
BWWG: We have two priority issues that we would like to see the commission address immediately. First, a deadline recently occurred on June 30, 2015 for Intermediary Devices to be compliant with certain EAS rules adopted in the 2012 Fifth EAS R&O. We feel the FCC should issue a Public Notice as to which of these devices it now deems compliant. Secondly, we are requesting that the commission include SECC members in the design, or at least Beta testing, of the new ETRS. This was also a CSRIC recommendation.
RW: What further priorities?
BWWG: In our second set of top priorities, we are focusing on issues where the FCC has already promised action. In priority order, we identify those as: updating the EAS Operating Handbook, considering the CSRIC State EAS Plan recommendations, considering the authority and responsibility of SECCs, and standardizing the “live code” test waiver process.
While those are our top priorities, we have also outlined five other issues requiring action that the FCC has previously committed to addressing, as well as five new issues that BWWG feels should be part of the ongoing EAS rule revisions. Those latter ten items are described in detail in a document on the EAS Forum website, including relevant Part 11 Rules citations (see http://tinyurl.com/BWWG-RW).
RW: The order creates a new FCC electronic filing system for stations and other EAS participants to report certain information about the outcome of national tests, and to help the FCC build an EAS “mapbook.” What are your thoughts or concerns about this aspect of the order?
BWWG: Transitioning the ETRS to also serve as a repository for EAS monitoring assignments will make good use of this existing FCC database. Collecting these monitoring assignments in the ETRS will enable the FCC to develop its “mapbook” showing the flow of the EAN throughout each state and in some cases adjacent states. Given that this database integrates closely with the State EAS Plans, we again echo CSRIC’s call for SECC members to be involved in the development of the new ETRS. While the R&O denies direct access by the SECCs to this database, we strongly suggest that the commission work with SECCs on the content of ETRS reports that the R&O states will be supplied to SECCs on request.
The BWWG sees the need for the commission to consult with the SECC’s as to what specific information might be most valuable to aid the state committees to improve their Operational Area structures. After results of national EAS tests (using either the NPT or the EAN code) are entered into the ETRS, the commission should automatically provide each SECC with the results. This partnership will lead to further improvements for the propagation of the live code EAN.
RW: What else should station engineers and managers know or be watching for, in coming months?
1. The commission has promised further actions on the EAS proceeding, 04-296.
2. They have also promised to open up a dialog with a wide range of EAS subject experts and stakeholders.
3. EAS Participants should not read the proposal to reduce the number of FCC field offices as a reduction in their compliance with Part 11, the FCC’s EAS rules.
4. The following BWWG-identified issues will be socialized within the EAS community: a proposal to insert a “Virtual Red Envelope” code into all EAN and NPT messages to confirm authenticity, a proposal to match text crawl speed to spoken word cadence, and proposed solutions to ensure that the broadcast of the enhanced CAP alert text is not circumvented by the reception of legacy EAS alerts.
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