EAS Poised for Massive Overhaul

Few broadcasters have not complained about the shortcomings of EAS. For more than 50 years, our government-imposed emergency alerting systems have tried and too often failed to fulfill their collective intended mission and benefit to the public.
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Few broadcasters have not complained about the shortcomings of EAS. For more than 50 years, our government-imposed emergency alerting systems have tried and too often failed to fulfill their collective intended mission and benefit to the public.

This malaise may finally and rapidly be coming to an end. The events of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, along with the maturation of technologies like CAP and the Internet, have prompted the various government entities dealing with public safety, disaster preparedness and response to start working from a common playbook.

FCC Docket 04-296 was launched before Katrina in 2004. It proposed major changes in EAS rules, including required participation by digital and satellite broadcasters. Many other proposed improvements have been discussed within FEMA, DHS, FCC, NOAA, SBE, NASBA and other groups since.

The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System or IPAWS is a new initiative launched within DHS and FEMA to work with stakeholders to improve our public warning systems. We are seeing the fruit of that labor start to ripen.

This March, the General Accounting Office issued 07-411, a comprehensive report on the state of emergency preparedness. It recognized the limitations of the present structure and the pressing need to develop a new integrated emergency alerting and communications system, however challenging that will be. The authors appear to have “gotten it right” regarding the role broadcasters need to play among first responders.

On May 31, the FCC adopted a Second Report and Order and FNPRM regarding EAS that will require EAS participants to accept messages using CAP, the Common Alerting Protocol. This will be incorporated in the next generation of EAS delivery systems no later than 180 days after FEMA announces its adoption of standards.

CAP is an open, non-proprietary, XML-based standard data interchange format used by DHS, FEMA, NWS, USGS and more recently by the FCC. It can be used to collect all types of hazard warnings and reports locally, regionally and nationally for input into a range of information management and warning dissemination systems. (See www.incident.com/cap/what-why-how.html.)

The beauty of CAP is that it’s readily used by the Internet, cellphones, PDAs, newsgathering organizations, radio, TV and cable operators, highway messaging, lottery machines and so on. The new EAS delivery structure will need to incorporate a text-based engine that will easily be harnessed by CAP. Existing EAS hardware manufacturers and perhaps new players will be introducing new codec versions that include CAP capability when rules are finalized.

Perhaps most important for existing broadcasters, the new rules will require transmitting state and locally targeted EAS alerts that are originated by governors or their designees.

This means state and local messages will need distribution systems that are not dependent on the old LP daisy-chain scheme. Broadcasters should not be “relay devices” for the benefit of other stations. Existing state government two-way radio and satellite relay networks as well as Web and Internet-based resources like MyStateUSA will play key roles here.

This next-generation EAS system is far from complete. There are proposals to expand the Primary Entry Point system to include FM stations, satellite radio and NPR, making national EAS activation more effective. Other important issues such as how best to treat non-English speaking stations and audiences need to be addressed.

The goal in forging a new EAS system is to quickly and reliably reach 99 percent of the nation using radio, TV and other media with geo-targeted voice, video, text and data emergency information. The government has fast-tracked this proceeding, and input from broadcasters is very much needed and encouraged.

Industry EAS experts like Clay Freinwald — chairman of the SBE EAS Committee, vice president of the national SBE and chairman of the Washington state SECC — are educating chapters and others about these developments; and much of the information above comes from Freinwald’s recent presentations.

Radio World urges all interested parties to participate in the rulemaking process. We have a real opportunity to make EAS work the way it was intended.

— RW


Overhauling EAS

Fortunately some key government folks charged with emergency alerting and management appear to have agreed with my analysis and are calling for a complete overhaul of the EAS system.

FM-based Broadcast, WiFi Key to EAS

In recent years, local emergency management personnel have used radio and television broadcast stations, cable and wireless cable systems along with land mobile radio and cell dispatches to distribute information to local responders.