“Blue Alerts” are a big step closer to reality.
The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday proposed adding an event code to the Emergency Alert System to facilitate apprehension of suspects who pose an imminent and credible threat to law enforcement officials and to help find missing police officers.
Blue Alerts, similar to AMBER Alerts, would allow state and local agencies to deliver “actionable” information to the public when an officer is killed, seriously injured, missing in connection with his or her official duties, or if there is an imminent and credible threat to a law enforcement officer.
Chairman Ajit Pai, who voted in favor of the NPRM along with Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael O’Rielly at the open meeting this week, said, “With this step, we are not just advancing a policy, we are affirming a principle. And that principle is that we the American people have a collective responsibility to protect and serve those who protect and serve us. Today’s first step to establishing a Blue Alert code is just one example of our commitment to this principle.”
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks to amend of Part 11 of the commission’s rules regarding the EAS and would support the national framework for a Blue Alert that states could then adopt. It seeks to add a dedicated event code of “BLU” to the list of event codes. At present, 27 states use Blue Alerts over EAS to notify the public of threats to law enforcement, according to the FCC.
Lisa Fowlkes, bureau chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, said the proposal promotes an important national policy, as articulated by President Trump in a recent executive order, of preventing violence against law enforcement officers.
“Blue Alerts can not only give us the opportunity to help protect ourselves and our own communities, but also those brave men and women who risk their own lives to protect us,” Fowlkes said at the meeting.
A Blue Alert could only be issued under certain circumstances, according to the FCC’s NPRM. “First, an alert may be issued when the agency confirms that a law enforcement officer has been killed, seriously injured, or attacked and with indications of death or serious injury. Second, an alert may be issued in the event of a threat to cause death or serious injury to a law enforcement officer. Third, where a law enforcement officer is reported missing, an agency may issue a Blue Alert if it concludes that the law enforcement officer is missing in connection with the officer’s official duties.”
Vince Davenport, deputy Blue Alert coordinator for the U.S. Department of Justice, said Thursday the creation of a Blue Alert event code for EAS would represent a significant step in protecting the lives of police officers.
The Department of Justice is charged with carrying out the Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act of 2015 to “encourage, enhance and integrate” state Blue Alert plans to ensure consistent and effective alert delivery nationwide. The act identifies Justice as the national coordinator for Blue Alerts, responsible for establishing voluntary guidelines for states and local governments to use in developing compatible and integrated their plans. The DOJ in turn identified a need for a dedicated Blue Alert event code in the Emergency Alert System, Davenport said.
Officers Ramos and Liu were New York City Police Department police officers ambushed and killed by a lone gunman in December 2014.
Some comments from readers of an earlier story about Blue Alerts on Radio World’s website questioned the need for this change.
“Wouldn’t the Civil Danger Warning (CDW) FIPS code already in our EAS ENDECS serve the same purpose?” one reader posted.
But Commissioner Michael O’Rielly wrote in a post-meeting statement Thursday: “While some localities have used other codes for such purposes, it is a helpful exercise to understand whether a new code is needed and the potential benefits of a nationwide code. Ultimately, when, where, and how to use this code would be up to the discretion of local law enforcement agencies. They will have to make the ultimate judgment call about whether releasing such information is likely to facilitate their efforts.”
Another reader wrote of concern about the potential cost for broadcasters who might need to upgrade EAS equipment to keep up with additional event codes.
“I’m all for making the system as effective as possible, but I’m also concerned about the costs eaten by stations every time gear has to be scrapped or firmware upgraded to accommodate the latest brainchild of the folks that sit around thinking up new changes. With an average cost of $3K for the EAS unit, and our last upgrade was $1000, in addition to the $1000 IPAWS/CAP upgrade. At $5000, that’s equal to the price of our transmitter,” the reader opined.
The NPRM invites public comment on the proposal (NPRM 17-74).
The EAS is a national public warning system through which broadcasters and other service providers deliver alerts to the public to warn them of impending emergencies and dangers to life and property. The primary purpose of the EAS is to equip the President with the capability to provide immediate communications and information to the general public during periods of national emergency.