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EAS Box Makers Weigh in on Blue Alerts

Issues of cost, implementation and timing are discussed

WASHINGTON��Two prominent EAS equipment manufacturers weighed in with separate comments about the FCC proposal to add a Blue Alert code to EAS.

In a three-page response, Sage Alerting Systems answered an FCC timeline question by saying its equipment has always allowed for addition of new event and location codes by users in the field; Sage said it would be a simple matter to make changes using the new event code in the settings file.Sage made no mention of what costs users might incur, if any.

Sage then discussed an earlier NWS Report and Order from the commission, which required equipment manufacturers to integrate the severe weather-related EAS event codes into equipment yet to be manufactured or sold, and the commission�s suggestion of doing the same for the BLU event code. Sage asked the commission to clarify the R&O, and confirm that hardware makers are not required to integrate those codes in future gear as long as those models do allow users to add a code during installation.

Finally, Sage asked the FCC to adjust the rules and set guidelines to clarify how CAP and legacy EAS versions of the same alert are handled. As things stand, legacy EAS messages do not have access to all of the rich media from a CAP message. This concern applies to all CAP/EAS alerts, not just the proposed Blue Alerts, and Sage originally raised this issue with the commission in 2016.

Another manufacturer of popular EAS gear, Monroe Electronics/Digital Alert Systems, filed a 14-page response. It said its earlier �triggered CAP polling� proposal to ensure rich textural alerts would benefit Blue Alerts as well as existing Amber Alerts. As it stands, many EAS participants will receive and transmit a short EAS message before they receive a potentially more informative CAP message; Monroe states that triggered CAP polling can address this issue but asked the commission to address some questions:

  • Should �triggered CAP polling� be implemented for all EAS event codes, including the national EAN and NPT event codes, which require transmission �immediately upon receipt�? Alternatively, should triggered CAP polling only be implemented on a voluntary basis for nonnational civil and weather event codes?
  • Is any potential delay or latency permissible in light of the �immediacy� requirements of �11.51 (n) and �11.54(a)?
  • Should this enhancement be incorporated in conjunction with the EAN and NPT Event codes?
  • If so, would the FCC desire either or both of the EAN and NPT codes to also be furnished with this immediate CAP polling capability?
  • What is the maximum delay or latency acceptable to the FCC, in order to allow for this function to be accomplished?

Monroe also urged that these questions be addressed before the next national test of the EAS system this fall.

The manufacturer then argued that a new Blue Alert event code would not provide any real advantage over the existing ��LEW�� code and could in fact result in complications, costs and delays in implementation.

Benefits in sticking with the ��LEW�� code, Monroe said, include lowest cost, fastest implementation in EAS and WEA, and easy integration into existing state EAS and Blue Alert plans. Challenges in creating a new ��BLU�� event code, according to Monroe, include a significantly extended timeline for both EAS and WEA, additional costs to EAS participants and manufacturers, and the need to revise some Blue Alert plans as well as all state EAS plans.

Monroe said cost considerations for EAS participants would be significantly minimized if the existing ��LEW�� event code is utilized; all that would be required would be for users to log in and select the existing event code for automatic forwarding.�On the other hand, if a new event code is required within a scheduled future software update, EAS participant costs extend incrementally to include the time (and any possible fees) related to obtaining and installing the software update, and then logging in and selecting the new event code. Monroe did not address the question of how much, if anything, it would charge.

For EAS manufacturers, there would be no associated development costs if the �LEW� event code were to be utilized, since the code is present on FCC-certified EAS devices already. If a new event code is designated for Blue Alerts, manufacturer costs for including the event code in a software update will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, depending on the nature of a regularly scheduled update, and depending on whether the manufacturer has planned to even issue a periodic software/firmware update in the six months proposed by the commission.

A similar story applies to updating equipment at CAP/EAS origination systems, according to Monroe. There are no costs for using the LEW event code, but a new BLU code would necessitate updating of software and systems used by alert originators to initiate messages via EAS and WEA. The result would be software application development costs for systems providers to alert originators. Presuming such an update would be made available to alert originators at no charge, Monroe wrote, the commission would have created a situation where industry must create product for state and local governments without compensation.

Further, whether ��BLU�� or ��LEW�� is chosen affects the implementation timeline, according to Monroe. Blue Alerts using the ��LEW�� event code can begin immediately, but Monroe asked that the commission allow 12 to 18 months after the effective date for a new BLU� event code.

Finally, Monroe responded to an FCC question about whether EAS is suited to deliver Blue Alerts in a targeted geographic manner, consistent with the Blue Alert Act, which provides that Blue Alerts, to the maximum extent practicable, �be limited to the geographic areas most likely to facilitate the apprehension of the suspect involved or which the suspect could reasonably reach, which should not be limited to state lines.�

Monroe noted that the EAS is based on FIPS geocodes (roughly correlating to county administrative divisions). The EAS cannot target geographic areas other than those defined by FIPS codes. EAS participants currently cannot distribute Blue Alerts to smaller, narrowly targeted geographic areas, though future broadcast, cable and IPTV developments may offer the capability.

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