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FCC Plans EAS Test Reporting System

Electronic system is based on experiences after the first nationwide test

For broadcasters, interacting with FCC databases has sometimes been a source of frustration. But the commission is hopeful that a planned new system to report the outcome of nationwide EAS tests will involve a minimum of filing hassle — and also help it create an EAS “Mapbook” to illustrate how alerts are propagated.

The FCC used a temporary electronic filing system to gather data in the first nationwide test four years ago; it said response was positive. An advisory council subsequently recommended that the commission develop a federal government database to contain EAS monitoring assignments.

So when the commission this month issued a report and order to strengthen the Emergency Alert System, one of its actions was to require that participants file future test data via a planned Electronic Test Report System that would help accomplish both objectives.

The FCC said industry commenters supported the idea “because it eases the data-entry burden on EAS participants and facilitates effective analysis of the EAS infrastructure.” Some 3,000 words of the report and order are about this system, which is to be implemented by the commission’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau.

The commission plans to create three forms for EAS participants (such as radio and TV stations) to fill out. One will ask for information such as your EAS designation, monitoring assignments, facility location, equipment type and contact. The second will ask whether you received the nationwide EAS test alert code and, if required, whether the code was propagated. A third will gather detailed info about receipt and propagation, including any complications.

Participants will be able to review filings prior to submission and retrieve filings to fix errors; they will not be required to input data previously given to the commission; and they will be able to get a filing receipt. Or so the plan goes.

Participants will have to update information yearly and as required by updates or waivers to State EAS Plans. The date for the required first filing will be 60 days after the system is operational. Once the system is up and running, the FCC said, “day of test” data will have to be filed within 24 hours of a nationwide test “or as otherwise required by the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau,” and detailed post-test data will have to be filed within 45 days of a test. That parallels the deadlines that were given for the 2011 test.

The FCC said it tweaked this plan with improvements supported by commenters. For instance the database will be pre-populated with identifying info such as call letters and transmitter locations already provided to the Universal Licensing System and other FCC databases (though you’ll still have to review and confirm the pre-populated information).

The FCC also plans to integrate information that it obtains from the first form into State EAS Plans, consolidating those into an EAS Mapbook. Its goal is a centralized database containing all EAS monitoring assignments and alert distribution pathways, “enabling new analyses of alert distribution at the national, state and local levels.” The new system is supposed to be able to create maps that indicate the propagation of an EAN throughout the EAS architecture.

The commission did make some other technical tweaks to its ETRS plan based on concerns from commenters. (You can read details here, starting on page 24.) Notably, this system will allow for batch filing: “This improvement to the ETRS will ease the filing burden on many large EAS participants by allowing them to complete the required filings of their many facilities all at once, rather than submitting separate filings for each facility,” the FCC wrote.

However it did not take certain other suggestions. It did not agree that participants should only be required to report test results once. It said no to a request from consumer groups that the ETRS be used as a mechanism for consumer feedback about EAS accessibility and other test outcomes. And it did not adopt a suggestion to expand access to the system for State Emergency Coordination Committees, citing confidentiality and technical concerns. “Rather, we will, upon request from an SECC, provide the SECC with a report of their state’s aggregated data. SECCs can use these reports to remedy monitoring anomalies evident from EAS Participant filings in their state.”

Note that none of this changes the requirement that during an FCC inspection, an EAS participant must demonstrate that monitoring and transmission functions are available and operational, and produce logs with entries that note whether any EAS tests were not received, and the cause of any failures.

We’ll be watching for more on the pending ETRS system from the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.