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FCC Seeks Input on EAS Operational Issues

Header, location codes, EAN optimal test length are questioned

We reported during the Radio Show that the FCC is considering crafting an online template for state EAS plans, to help states create those documents and help the commission track them. The FCC recently urged states to update EAS plans and asked stations to update the list of facilities they monitor.

Now, we learn the EAS effort is larger.

The FCC’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau is asking for public input about equipment and operational issues identified after the national test two years ago. In a notice, the FCC says it is starting a dialog with the EAS community; the aim is to identify recommendations for commission action, if any are needed. With that in mind, the commission may then issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

The commission reviewed results from the nationwide EAS test from some 16,000 participants, and spoke with some of them, as well as with FEMA. Among questions the agency now is asking is whether the header code for a presidential alert should be changed. The FCC said that the various brands of EAS encoders/decoders recognized and processed the EAN differently. Some encoders/decoders delayed releasing the message for three minutes, for example. The FCC wants comments from manufacturers about how their devices handle the header codes, and from the EAS community in general on whether the rules on header codes need to be clarified or revised.

The FCC also is asking whether a location code is a necessary part of an EAN, noting that there is no geographic location code dedicated to a presidential alert at present. In the test, FEMA and the FCC chose to use the Washington location code; but an EAN is nationwide, and the agency wants comments on how a Washington code affected stations outside of the Washington area to receive and retransmit the test.

“Is there any reason the EAS equipment should be required to … recognize a location code before transmitting an EAN?” the commission asks. It also wants to know whether deleting the location code requirement for an EAN activation would be an equipment reprogramming hassle for stations.

The commission also asks whether there should there be a “National Test Event Code.”

Finally, the original national EAS test was supposed to be close to three minutes long, to learn when EAS encoders/decoders would “time out” and end the alert. But just before the test, the feds shortened it to 30 seconds to avoid a possible public panic. The shorter length caused problems along the daisy chain. The FCC says one station told the agency its EAS gear couldn’t rebroadcast an EAN shorter than 75 seconds. Another said 30 seconds wasn’t enough time to allow its engineers to manually override its equipment “when automatic equipment functions failed,” according to the agency.

So the commission is asking for comment on the length of a national test. The FCC asks whether there’s a minimum amount of time that EAS gear needs to operate an EAN properly and if there are downsides to a test longer than two minutes.

Comments to EB Docket 04-296 are due Oct. 23 and replies on Nov. 7.