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Changes in Store for EAS

An FCC order allows originators to conduct local tests twice a year, sets false alert rules

WASHINGTON — New steps are being proposed by the Federal Communications Commission to improve the nation’s emergency alerting system — including new suggestions for facilitating more effective EAS tests and preventing false alerts.

For the EAS system to be effective, two conditions must be met,” said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr at the FCC July Open Meeting on July 12. “First, the public must know what emergency alerts are, what they sound and look like and signify. Second, Americans must have confidence that when they hear or see an emergency alert, they can rely and act on potentially life-saving information.”

Specifically, the Report and Order offers new guidance on conducting local tests. The order will allow alert originators to conduct live code tests twice within a calendar year so that local jurisdictions can test components of the EAS system. This shift would also remove burdens associated with filing a waiver request, the FCC said.

The order also proposes to permit public service announcements, or PSAs, about the Emergency Alert System to include the attention-grabbing two-tone signal that proceeds an actual alert, so long as an appropriate disclaimer is included in the PSA. This item raised concern for Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, however, who said while said he generally supports the authorization of conducting live code tests, “at the same time, codes should be used sparingly so people take it seriously when there’s an actual emergency.”

He expressed satisfaction that the order now incorporates his suggestion to limit the number of codes that alert originators may conduct to no more than two a year to “ensure people do not disregard these alerts,” he said. “[If] people come to expect when the alert signals go off it may not be real, [there] is a high likelihood they will ignore potentially life-saving information.”

He objected also to the decision to use simulated tones for public service announcements. “It is one thing to test the system, but it’s quite another to allow the tones to be used for PSAs,” he said. “Americans should not fear they are in imminent danger just to realize it’s an announcement.”

The order also proposes that state emergency agencies include procedures in their EAS plans for correcting false alerts and clarifies that EAS alert equipment must be configured in a manner that can help prevent false alerts. EAS participants are also required to alert the FCC via a 24/7 email alert center if a false emergency alert has been transmitted.

“Today we responded to [flaws found within the emergency alert system] by adopting new rules to enable state and local officials to conduct more effective emergency alert testing and public outreach,” said Chairman Ajit Pai. “[This action] will help prevent false alerts and invite input on additional [ways] depths to address alerts. Fewer false alerts mean more confidence in the life-saving lifesaving system.”

The order also asks stakeholders for their comments on other specific areas: ways to prevent and correct false alerts, and comments on the performance of Wireless Emergency Alerts.