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Abbott: News Media Don’t Understand EAS

Nevada SECC on lessons learned

I’ve shared with you in the past the EAS perspectives of Adrienne Abbott, chair of the State Emergency Communications Committee for the state of Nevada. I returned to her today for an emailed Q&A about the just-completed national test.

Some in engineering circles are calling Wednesday’s national EAS test a “disaster.” Others acknowledge problems but say that was pretty much the point. How do you characterize its success?

I term the test a “success” because the EAN event code worked very much as designed. It took over programming at radio and TV stations across the country and allowed FEMA to issue a message that was heard pretty much simultaneously everywhere. Yes, the audio portion of the test had problems but because the EAN took away control of their stations, there was nothing broadcasters could do about it. That loss of control was one of the elements being tested with the use of the EAN code. As broadcasters, we are committed to perfect audio and perfect video and we get frustrated when we can’t fix audio and video problems. But we can’t let ourselves get lost in the fact that despite the audio problems, the National Test technically did what it was supposed to do.

Technically, how did the test come through to radio listeners in your state, and what kind of problems were reported by stations, if any?

The stations in the Nevada EAS Operational Area experienced the same problems that other stations around the country are reporting — the second set of EAS tones and audio under the activation audio received by stations monitoring PEP sources, the lack of any audio in the activation in stations that monitored NPR channels received and the delays in rebroadcasting the test that were noted in stations using the DASDEC equipment. Then there were the handful of remote, rural stations that did not receive the test at all. And for those stations, the test proves the fact that there are some places even a daisy-chain can’t reach.

What should broadcasters be thinking or doing now that this test is past?

Broadcasters should be thinking about what we learned from losing control of our airwaves to a national EAS activation that was less than perfect. What if this was a real event? What would our next steps be once we regained control of our stations? Would we be in a good position to tell people what they need to know to survive whatever disaster was underway? And we need to discuss and speculate on whether a problem EAN activation is serious enough for us to step in, abort the EAN and take back our stations to provide accurate information to our audiences. That’s one discussion that we haven’t had yet that needs to take place before the next National Test.

We also need to review the steps we took to participate in this test. There was a lot of talk about Monitoring Assignments and we need to consider whether the current Monitoring Assignments should remain in place or is it time to make some changes? FEMA is adding new PEP stations and those are not always Local Primary stations. The FCC rules still mandate only two monitoring assignments so there is a question today about whether that rule should be changed. The FCC has not released the revised Part 11 and after this test, they may want to consider another rewrite and another Comment and Reply period. EAS Plans will be re-written for CAP so this is the appropriate time to consider any changes in Monitoring Assignments.

You sent a note after the test to your local news media, can you share it?

As Nevada EAS Chair, I have to contradict what a lot of media pundits are saying this afternoon. From the perspective of the broadcasters, today’s National EAS Test was a success. FEMA took over the broadcasters’ airwaves to deliver a product to the public via the Emergency Alert System and the equipment that the FCC designed and mandated that we use. EAS worked as designed. The product that FEMA gave us was less than perfect and because the equipment worked the way the FCC designed it to work, there was nothing broadcasters could do to fix or improve that product. But we did the job of getting it–warts and all–out to the public.

The fact that the problems we encountered were exactly those that many of have predicted only enhances the message that we have been trying to communicate to the FCC for all these years. Now the FCC–and we–have proof that the PEP network doesn’t reach everywhere and that you can’t rely on the NPR network to back up PEP, particularly when they are given a faulty product.

The answer is not to throw out all things EAS, but to take what we have learned and use it to improve the system. We know now that EAS can be used to issue a national warning, we just have to solve the problems with the audio at the source. We also have to make sure the public and our media know and understand what happened.

-Any other key points?

We learned so much from yesterday’s test. We know things now we didn’t know this time Tuesday. Above all, we learned that EAS can be used for National activations but we also know that any problems that occur at the source will be repeated on down the line. That’s not a reason for scrapping the entire system.

And today we have solid proof of something many of us have said for years: the news media does not understand EAS. The print journalists at least have the excuse that there is nothing in the print world that is similar to EAS, and they can’t begin to understand the ins and outs of government regulation because print has no government regulation. But the broadcast news media has no excuse and they continue to do incredible damage to themselves and their industry by their ignorance.

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