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Communicators, Not Communicating

Another voice heard from in the wilderness of emergency alerting

Several recent articles in Radio World have made reference to the challenges of EAS, CAP and alerting in general.

One reader, a former state emergency communications official, wrote to explain some of his frustrations. I thought I’d share it. He started with the topic of cellular alerts:

“My iPhone went off again this morning with an EAS message warning about flash flooding. Try as I may, I still can’t discover who is sending these alerts,” he began.

“Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad someone is making progress in the cellular EAS department. I just think it’s odd that no one at our state’s office of emergency management or the state broadcast association has a clue who is actually making the NWS-AT&T interface and ‘pushing the button,’” he wrote.

“I was not surprised when I read a question in one of the tech columns in the newspaper about how to disable the smartphone alerts, specifically, the Amber Alerts. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even know that my iPhone 4S had that option in the Settings menu! It must have been quietly added in an upgrade.

“Having borne the brunt of more than a few irate phone calls from state residents who ‘don’t want to be warned,’ I think it’s ironic that some members of the public don’t want to be disturbed by Amber Alerts or flood warnings, yet if you don’t warn them, they’re the ones who are the first to get ‘lawyered up’ and go after the state for not informing them!”

He then moved on to a related topic that is perhaps more directly relevant to our readers. (Remember, this is a former state emergency communications official, someone familiar with the interaction of broadcasting and government.)

“Paul you asked me about state-level integration of CAP servers. I can’t tell you very much about CAP servers because FEMA/DHS never gave me or the state SECC any information to begin with!

“Shortly after an EAS equipment vendor installed special EAS receivers that were supposed to work through the PBS satellite, FEMA held a national test. The equipment was certified, and then almost immediately forgotten. Periodically, some Beltway Bandits came around to survey and inventory the equipment, but it was never used again. The local broadcasters and I kept hearing about these so-called ‘CAP servers’ that each state OEM was obliged to install, but absolutely no information came to either of us as to what it was or how it was supposed to be implemented,” he continued.

“More often than not, communications people are the worst communicators. FEMA is such a massive, burdensome organization that they can’t respond to even the smallest of issues. Putting out something as simple as an informational packet about CAP, or hosting a mandatory videoconference for us to watch proved to be too difficult for them.

“While I am now officially out of the loop, I have to say that, speaking solely for myself, I still have no clue what it is, how it’s supposed to work, what each state’s responsibility is, or how much cost outlay is involved. How was I expected to go to my chain of command with so nebulous a plan?”

Sobering comments from someone you’d expect to be well informed about a state’s alerting infrastructure. If nothing else, he reinforces for me a sense that in certain jurisdictions, not all “hands” are aware of what other hands are doing. Are his comments fair? Share your own thoughts about state-level integration of new alerting tools. Write to me at [email protected].

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Congrats to­ Clear Channel Media and Entertainment for implementing a couple of great ideas to help develop engineering talent, a common topic on this page.

The Electrical Engineering Co-op Program, which completed its third year, gives a dozen engineering college students a chance to learn in and work at Clear Channel stations, alternating semesters in the program and then returning to school. Two will earn $5,000 scholarships.

The separate, new Market Engineering Manager Development Program is described as an “elite internal engineering development program.” It is a two-year gig that includes a personalized curriculum, one-on-one coaching, education and testing. First-year graduates include David Grice, Chris Abbott, Andy Mika and Jake Wyatt. The newest class will, among other things, work in Cincinnati to help build a studio at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in partnership with the Ryan Seacrest Foundation.

In a company announcement, Jeff Littlejohn, executive vice president of engineering and systems integration, said the company “is making a strategic investment in the future of broadcasting engineering,” and hopes these programs will help attract new engineers while nourishing current ones.