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FCC Releases Results of 2017 EAS Test

Improvements reported in several areas, though technical issues remain

The third nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System found that EAS participants have improved their ability to successfully alert the public using the EAS, though the Federal Communications Commission said more work needs to be done.

The test, conducted on Sept. 27, 2017, was designed to assess the reliability and effectiveness of EAS with an emphasis on testing the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, the process through which common alerting protocol-formatted (CAP-formatted) EAS alerts are disseminated to EAS participants. The test was conducted by the FCC in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Overall, the 2017 test demonstrated that IPAWS “continues to deliver high-quality, effective, and accessible EAS alerts,” said the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau in its report, and that EAS participants’ results show improvement in several areas.

The bureau reported that 95.8% of all test participants successfully received the test alert, as compared to 95.4% in 2016. It also found that 91.9% of test participants successfully retransmitted the test alert, as compared to 85.8% in 2016.

That number is slightly higher for radio broadcasters specifically: 97.3% of all radio broadcasters received the alert, and 94% successfully transmitted it.

The filing rate for radio broadcasters was higher than for any other EAS participant: 78.5% for radio, 68.5% for TV, and 74% for cable, IPTV and wireline video. The report also found that the low participation rate of low-power broadcasters seems to have significantly reduced the overall participation rate of all broadcasters. Of the 3,786 radio broadcasters that were expected to file but failed to do so, 1,070 were LPFM broadcasters.

Test data also revealed that technical issues did impact some EAS participants’ ability to receive EAS alerts effectively over IPAWS.

The report found that 58.1% of test participants first received the test over the air rather than from IPAWS (as compared to 56.5% in 2016), and thus were unable to deliver the CAP-formatted digital audio, Spanish-language and text files. These files are designed to improve alert accessibility to non-English speakers and those with disabilities. The report also said that the test wasn’t fully accessible to some people with disabilities due to issues with closed captioning and other EAS participant practices.

[Read: September EAS Test: One Station’s Story]

The report revealed that in 2017 versus 2016, a greater number of EAS participants were aware of their correct EAS designation (which is assigned to them by their state EAS plan) though incorrect designations still occurred. “This data suggests that test participants better understand their role in the EAS than they did in 2016, but there is still room for improvement,” the report said.

Other improvements included a 96.7% success rate in monitoring IPAWS, up from 94% in 2016.

The most significant complications in the 2017 test included equipment configuration issues, equipment failures, audio quality issues, source issues, clock errors and failure to update equipment software.

There have been improvements, however. EAS has strengthened overall since the 2016 Nationwide EAS Test, the bureau said, as 88.3% of Form Three filers reported no complications in retransmission, which is up from 80.2% in 2016. New in 2017 was a series of checkboxes on Form Three that allowed EAS participants to assign categories to the issues they experienced. In 2017, 4% of filers reported they experienced audio quality issues, which is an increase from the 2.6% of test participants that reported audio quality issues in 2016. On the other hand, equipment performance issues seemed to drop, as only 0.4% of filers reported issues, down from 2.1% in 2016.

This year, Form Three allowed participants to specifically explain the exact problems that happened during the test. And apparently lightning does strike twice — or more. A total of 11 participants said “equipment struck by lightning” was the reason they had difficulty receiving or forwarding the EAS alert.

The bureau said that while the 2017 test results indicate that EAS participants have improved their ability to successfully alert the public using the EAS, more work needs to be done.

Over the next year, the bureau plans to encourage the adoption of best practices for the upkeep of EAS equipment; reach out to stations to ensure better coordination of alert crawl with closed captioning; revise ETRS Form Three to address accessibility for people with disabilities and non-English speakers; and work with state emergency communications committees and EAS equipment manufacturers to encourage participants to update their EAS equipment and software.

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