HOOVER, Ala. — During the transition from EBS to EAS in 1996, the state of Alabama was still using the “daisy-chain” method of distributing EAS alerts. A couple of years later we discovered that a number of states had started other means of distribution.
According to FCC rules, all broadcast stations and cable systems must monitor two sources capable of relaying messages from the White House. The key word here is “sources.” That could mean radio stations, Internet, subchannels, satellite, etc.
The state decided to use the services of two statewide networks already in place: the Alabama Public Television Network (APT) which has nine transmitters that cover almost the entire state; and the Alabama Digital Satellite Network (ADSN), a regional sports network, which had more than 60 downlinks across the state.
A revision to the state plan required all stations to monitor these two sources for EAS alerts and test. This distribution method worked very well for a number of years.
Recently, ADSN was purchased and move out of the state, leaving the state with only one distribution network. Sharon Tinsley, Alabama Broadcast Association (ABA) president, and I met with several companies to discuss possible solutions to the situation.
We decided to use the services of Global Security Systems, based in Jackson, Miss. GSS already had GSSNet, their satellite data delivery system, online at a number of stations in Alabama as part of their Alert FM system. Therefore, it only made sense to build on this network.
To facilitate to monitoring two sources for EAS messages, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency divided the state into eight operational areas. Based on these eight areas, ABA designated two full-power FM stations in each of the areas to install GSSNet downlink equipment. Equipment also was installed at two public radio networks, both of which have multiple stations around the state. To date, there are 23 markets set up with the GSSNet satellite equipment.The GSSNet equipment broadcasts to the new CAP/EAS units by means of multicast IP. I have been busy traveling to these stations to program the GSS units with the stations new EAS equipment.
In August, we ran our first Required Monthly Test (RMT) using the GSSNet system. The comments from the field were all positive. The system uses GSSNet Alert Studio, a secure Web interface, for message origination, which allows alerts to be sent from any location. Alerts are sent using the CAP protocol, which is then converted to audio with the text-to-speech converters in the EAS units. As an alternative, you can also attach audio files to the message. This is useful should the governor need to send an alert using his own voice. JPEG photos can also be distributed with the alerts. Alerts may be sent to all counties for statewide alerts or a selected number of counties for regional types of events.
Training sessions have been held with personnel at the Department of Public Safety responsible for issuing Amber Alerts and the Emergency Operational Center, which handles alerts from the governor’s office.
The entire startup project was funded by the Alabama Broadcasters Association with no cost to the broadcast stations. Additional expansion of the network is being planned for the future.
Overall the Alabama Broadcasters Association is satisfied with GSSNet and its Alert Studio application. We would recommend it any state for CAP-EAS message delivery.
Larry Wilkins is Alabama EAS Coordinator/ABIP Inspector for Alabama Broadcasters Association.
For information, contact Jim Lowery at Global Security Systems in Mississippi at (866) 896-5180 or visit www.gssnet.us.