Ed. Note: The EAS CAP compliance deadline, mentioned in this story, has since been extended. See story.
WASHINGTON — Some broadcasters are taking tentative steps to prepare for the enhanced Emergency Alert System while others are holding off on selecting new equipment until the government’s requirements become more clear.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency in September formally adopted a new digital message format for the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, or IPAWS. This triggered an FCC countdown clock mandating broadcaster compatibility.
Common Alerting Protocol v1.2 is an open, interoperable, data interchange format for collecting and distributing emergency warnings. FEMA says CAP — which is based on a protocol approved by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards — will allow emergency managers to compose messages to communicate with the public during emergencies through a broader set of channels, meaning the familiar radio and television EAS architectures but also cell phones, personal communication devices, electronic highway signs and other non-traditional means.
The CAP adoption sets in motion the long-awaited EAS upgrade. Work on an improved EAS began in earnest in 2006 when President George W. Bush signed an executive order creating IPAWS and placing FEMA in charge of EAS development.
The FCC is responsible with ensuring that communications providers have the capability to receive and transmit emergency alerts to the public. Most observers contacted for this article believe many broadcasters will need to replace older EAS encoders/decoders or at least download software updates for more current EAS boxes.
Of special significance to broadcasters is the 180-day adoption clock, which began running when FEMA acted at the end of September. As things stand, the buzzer will sound approximately at the end of March 2011. By the deadline, broadcasters would need to possess CAP-capable equipment.
An advisory group of the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) recommended that the commission extend the deadline at least to a full year. The FCC had said it will consider providing flexibility on the 180-day rule, and a spokesman said the commission would consider the CSRIC recommendation in its decision-making process along with public comments it received. Observers expect the FCC soon will issue a proposed rulemaking notice that will update Part 11 rules to include CAP-based emergency messaging.
In late October, NAB and other organizations including the SBE, NCTA, NPR, PBS, MSTV and 40-plus state broadcast associations added their voices, asking the commission for an extension — at least an extra six months, which would move the deadline to the end of next September.
They encouraged the FCC to consider a longer extension until it has completed its CAP-related equipment certification process and has resolved its anticipated rulemaking proceeding concerning modifications to Part 11.
“The commission’s own record in its EAS proceedings well illustrates the difficulties posed by potentially requiring as many as 25,000 to 30,000 EAS participants to acquire from a limited number of suppliers new, sophisticated equipment that is subject to governmental certification,” they wrote.
“Furthermore, a substantial amount of regulatory uncertainty remains that prevents EAS participants from making the necessary, informed decisions regarding what equipment to acquire and install.”
The cost to implement necessary equipment changes has drawn criticism from some broadcasters, who call this an unfunded mandate. Some suggested government should provide financial backing. However, the FCC has made it clear that on the federal level, only Congress has such authority; there has been no sign of such support. Other government entities can provide funding to broadcasters if they wish; the state of Idaho, for one, has done so.
Many broadcasters are at least reviewing EAS equipment needs now that the clock is counting down, several group directors of engineering said. “We have told our stations to hold off on making any equipment requests while we research what needs to be done at the corporate level,” said Steve Davis, senior vice president of Engineering and Capital Management for Clear Channel Radio.
Greater Media had budgeted for new EAS equipment needs once FEMA and the FCC acted on CAP, said Milford Smith, vice president of radio engineering for Greater Media.
“I have merely advised our stations to ascertain their needs and put together the necessary paperwork — soon — to get what’s required ordered. We are anticipating substantial delays given the short time frame and assumed demand,” Smith said. “I expect we’ll have some software and hardware demands.”
Dave Remund, vice president of engineering for Town Square Media, said, “The vast majority of the EAS equipment we have in the field is still the original equipment installed with the initial EAS rollout [in 1997]. As a result we have been budgeting to replace it all en masse once CAP became final.”
EAS equipment manufacturers are offering various EAS options, from converters to software to new EAS systems.
“Right now broadcasters need to budget for the inevitable, adding a CAP decoder or replacing their EAS system entirely,” said Darryl Parker, senior vice president of manufacturer TFT Inc.
Harold Price, president of EAS equipment manufacturer Sage Alerting Systems, said, “CAP is really an ongoing process. FEMA’s announcement was a necessary step … but it isn’t the last step in the process.”
Based upon Sage’s numbers and those of other vendors, approximately 20 percent of broadcasters had CAP-ready equipment when the 180-day timetable began, Price said.
He recommends that engineers check with the manufacturers of their encoder/decoders to see if the hardware is CAP-capable.
“If your device has a LAN connector, chances are good [it could be upgraded]. If it can’t connect to the Internet, chances are zero.”
Parker of TFT said, “Software updates to current FCC type-certified EAS encoders/decoders and decoders are not practical since most do not have Internet connection capability.”
What Is CAP? The Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) v1.2 adopted by FEMA in September is an XML-based data format that can be used by local emergency managers to communicate with the public via various alerting technologies, public warning experts said.
CAP is a format for exchanging emergency alerts allowing a consistent warning message to be disseminated simultaneously over many different warning systems, according to FEMA. CAP is described in a technical standard published by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Systems (OASIS) and can be found at www.oasis-open.org.
FEMA said CAP will be the foundation of the Integrated Alert Public Warning System (IPAWS), the infrastructure that is the next-generation of alert and warning that expands beyond traditional radio and television Emergency Alert System activations. FEMA’s website for IPAWS is www.fema.gov/emergency/ipaws.
IPAWS will integrate new and existing public alert and warning systems and technologies. It’s been described by some EAS experts as the interoperability framework for public warning that utilizes the Internet and cellular phones plus a variety of other communication tools in addition to broadcast radio and television.
— Randy J. Stine Another option for broadcasters will be adding a CAP-to-EAS converter, which essentially adds another receiver to an existing EAS system, said Jim Gorman, president of Gorman-Redlich Mfg. Co.
He said the company’s CAP-DEC1 will supply converted CAP v1.2 messages into a frequency-shift keying header with attention tone analog audio and an end-of-message indicator.
“This will simply be an addition to the radios that are already connected to the rear of a legacy EAS encoder/decoder,” Gorman said.
However, some equipment manufacturers contend that a CAP-to-EAS converter may not be a viable application because it won’t be able to handle a “governor must carry” message, which will be a part of an enhanced EAS system. The CSRIC working group has asked FEMA to clarify how “governor must carry” messages will be implemented. These manufacturers add that converter boxes are not mentioned in current Part 11 rules.
“I would think any time you place a new CAP converter in front of 15-year-old legacy EAS devices,” there could be issues, one manufacturer said. “The legacy EAS equipment won’t last forever.”
Gorman replied, “No one knows if the FCC will even approve a ‘governor must-carry message.’ They may leave it up to individual state plans.” He said his company is aware of the possible addition and is considering several solutions contingent on the regulatory requirements. Converter boxes are not mentioned in Part 11, he said, and no specification for certification is listed.
For broadcasters seeking guidance, the EAS-CAP Industry Group released a CAP to EAS Implementation Guide: www.eas-cap.org. It provides guidelines for receiving CAP messages and translating the content to EAS formats for broadcast media.
The NAB published CAP updates for its members in its Radio TechCheck publication. The Society of Broadcast Engineers posted a list of frequently asked questions about CAP; it can be found at www.sbe.org/gov_eas.php.
The society also created an SBE EAS Education Committee and appointed Ralph Beaver to chair it; Beaver has been working with EAS since 1973.
Meanwhile, FEMA has begun IPAWS conformance lab tests at Eastern Kentucky University through a contract with Science Applications International Corp. It will screen a variety of EAS field equipment, including encoders and decoders, to measure compliance with CAP and the IPAWS profile.
According to a FEMA’s conformity testing website, “EAS equipment manufacturers can submit equipment that is production-ready, but not in prototype or development phase.” There is no cost associated with testing and the testing staff will notify the vendor of the compliance review.
Reports about gear that passes IPAWS conformity assessment will be eligible for posting on FEMA’s Responder Knowledge Base website at www.rkb.us. The site provides government officials and the general public with access to product test results.
“Products that demonstrate conformance with IPAWS CAP will be announced (on the website) along with a description of the product and vendor contact information,” said Antwanne Johnson, FEMA IPAWS division director.
So Many Questions The Society of Broadcast Engineers posted a list of frequently asked questions to its website at www.sbe.org.
One was titled “What hasn’t been determined yet?” SBE replied: “An almost innumerable list of issues.” It listed some of them:
- What will stations need to do when they receive CAP messages?
- What sources do my stations monitor for CAP messages?
- How will CAP messages be logged?
- What will be the approved mapping of codes from a CAP-delivered emergency message to an EAS message (will the EAN code mean the same thing in CAP as EAS)?
- How will stations actually receive their CAP messages?
- If the CAP messages will be sent using the public Internet, what about stations that cannot get an Internet connection?
- What security measures will be used so that hackers won’t be able to take control of broadcast stations and emergency networks?
- How can governors send their messages to stations?
- How will state plans be changed?
- What data codes will be used so that EAS boxes know that a message is coming from a governor and that it is a “must air” message like an EAN? EAS product manufacturers interviewed for this story told Radio World they’re waiting on a list of approved equipment from Eastern Kentucky University.
“The EKU contract testing program is not dependent upon FCC Part 11. EKU is a contractor to FEMA, not the FCC,” said one EAS equipment manufacturer familiar with the compliance process.
The CSRIC working group recommended that the FCC create its own certification for CAP EAS devices — yet another step in a complicated regulatory process that was yet to be taken as of the end of October.
One manufacturer said his firm expects the testing regime will be refined as Part 11 is changed. “If so, we’ll just run our equipment through again.”
The FCC has worked with FEMA to roll out enhanced EAS. It also has been eager to implement nationwide testing of the EAS system, several alerting experts said. However, FEMA officials told Radio World that a nationwide test of legacy EAS, planned for the first quarter of next year, has been pushed until late 2011. FEMA and the FCC conducted a statewide test of existing EAS in Alaska in January, as we reported.
The FCC has a public notice (EB docket 04-296) seeking informal public comment on changes it needs to make to Part 11 rules governing EAS in a CAP world. Among those changes would be granting the FCC the capability to conduct a national test of EAS and collect data.
Lisa Fowlkes, deputy bureau chief of FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security, said CSRIC was assigned the job of identifying necessary changes to EAS rules. “We expect the CSRIC to present final recommendations to the FCC on this front within the next few months.”
In addition to extending the deadline and clarifying how the “governor must carry” mandate is implemented, the CSRIC advisory group made other recommendations that include requiring EAS participants to monitor more than one IP-based alert source. Radio World has posted the group’s PowerPoint, including those recommendations; go to tinyurl.com/csricrw to open the file, starting with slide 5.