Radio broadcasters are prepping in earnest for the upcoming national test of the Emergency Alert System on Sept. 27, and to get them ready Radio World is speaking with manufacturers of EAS equipment to determine what stations should know in advance of the test.
In Part III of this series, Radio World connected with Harold Price of Sage Alerting Systems.
Radio World: What have you learned from previous National Periodic Tests that will prove useful as you prepare for the next test on Sept. 27?
Harold Price: From the Sage point of view, we didn’t see anything unexpected last year. There are two problems that we thought would occur and did. One is typically encountered in networks where one broadcast station is feeding program material to other stations.
Assume Station A is the source for the network audio. That program is carried on Station B. Station A carries the alert, which appears on network Station B as program material. Station B interrupts that program material with an alert. If there is a Station C that uses Station B as an EAS monitor source, then Station C might hear the start of the alert from the Station A audio interrupted by Station B’s alert insertion, resulting in extra headers containing duplicate alerts. This causes listener confusion at the least, and in some cases causes early alert audio termination.
The other issue is if a station hears the alert from an over-the-air monitoring source before it receives the CAP version. Following the “immediate” portion of the relevant Part 11 rules, an ENDEC will air the first version of the alert received. This can result in the over-the-air version being relayed with alert audio that is not as good as the original CAP version, and audio that is not in an alternate language if the station was hoping for Spanish in the CAP version.
Sage, and others, have petitioned the FCC to permit devices to check for CAP versions of EAS alerts. Sage has also requested specific rules on the maximum delay time allowed when a CAP message is not yet available, due to internet or one-way (satellite) delivery delays. The FCC has not yet addressed this issue.
We expect both of these issues to recur this year. The overlapping alert issue didn’t happen often last year. The airing of over-the-air sourced alerts was a surprise to some last year, but was within the Part 11 rules. It will hopefully not be a surprise this year.
Radio World: What types of equipment were put in place during last year’s test?
Price: Sage’s standard CAP/EAS product, the 3644, available since 2008, is what our customers use. The same version of the hardware is in use this year.
Radio World: What is your sense of the readiness of equipment for the test later this month?
Price: We’ve had some support calls with questions about the test, but I think our customers are ready.
Radio World: What versions should stations have installed?
Price: Users should use the same version as last year, 89-30. Sage provided a “verify” button in that update that will check the filter settings and give an indication that the user’s settings are, or are not, compliant. That same procedure, described at www.sagealertingsystems.com, can be used to double check readiness for this year’s test.
Radio World: What guidance do you have for customers who still need to update their equipment or ask questions?
Price: Users who did not update last year should install the free 89-30 update; details are on our web page. They can also call our support line, or send email to email@example.com
Radio World: Is there any other key information that users of your EAS equipment should know in advance of the upcoming national EAS test?
Price: Everything should be the same as last year. If the “verify” button says the station is ready, and their station carried the most recent monthly test, then the National Periodic Test should go well for them.