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Fawcett: Three Problems We Need to Address With EAS

He also wonders whether a sole-source encoder/decoder is the way to go

How did the national EAS test go and what lessons are being learned? That’s the question Radio World has been asking numerous industry observers since Wednesday. Here’s the view of Bill Fawcett, a radio station director of engineering in Virginia who chairs the Shenandoah Valley Local Emergency Communications Committee and serves on the Virginia SECC.

I think the broadcaster’s component of the national test went fine. I’m hearing that generally broadcasters relayed at least the header codes. Obviously the looping audio supplied by the PEP stations in most regions was a major problem, as the various models of endecs reacted in varying manners to header codes embedded within the audio text — which is not permitted under Part 11. Bad judgment was involved in the decision to feed delayed audio from the PEP stations on the FEMA conference bridge but at least it gave us a scenario no one ever imagined. Interesting to note that broadcasters have much more experience with phone hybrids concerning quality audio; this problem could have been avoided.

There were serious problems even before the test. I’d like to highlight three:

  1. The initial inclusion of Part 74 translators in the test, in violation of 47 CFR Section 11.11, which specifically excludes translators. See FCC 95-420 Memorandum Opinion and Order Paragraph 44.

    There were also practical problems with reporting information from translators, which many networks can’t even tell you if they are on the air at any given time. Translators are not even permitted to run tests from local endecs. This problem suggests that more broadcaster involvement is needed at PSHSB within the FCC and at FEMA.

  2. The last-minute scrambling by stations and state SECCs to identify the new PEP stations. I seriously doubt if any of these new stations are included in any current state plan. Why hasn’t FEMA been working with the SECCs to identify the best stations for this purpose, or at least why hasn’t FEMA at least officially notified the SECCs of the new PEP stations? This problem suggests that more broadcaster involvement is needed at PSHSB within the FCC and at FEMA.
  3. Discussions before the event highlighted the inconsistency of the PEP expansion project, which is targeting metropolitan population centers and ignoring that fact that at least one state plan didn’t even have a PEP source feeding into their state relay system. If we are going to test the antiquated daisy-chain system, we ought to at least see that there is something at the top of each state’s network. If broadcasters are required to prepare and submit state plans for approval, the FCC needs to take the time to evaluate those plans.

I think we are at a critical point where it is obvious that more, not less broadcaster involvement is needed, with broadcast-savvy people emplaced at PSHSB and FEMA.

The test also highlighted the problem of writing equipment standards for vendors, approving the equipment developed out of those standards, and then seeing differing reactions amongst the various endecs when presented with an aberrant alert: noisy, looping audio with an incorrect time stamp. And with CAP not fully defined, it hasn’t been an easy job for the vendors. As much as I support free enterprise, if this is a national security issue, a sole-source endec supplied by the government to all broadcasters would enhance the system more than anything else that could be done.