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FCC Suggests Expansion of EAS Codes

Commission is looking for feedback on the viability of changing alert descriptions

The FCC is proposing to revise certain EAS rules that pertain to extreme weather event alerts and geographic definitions, and is looking for the public’s feedback.

A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued on July 10, revealed a request by the National Weather Service that the FCC revise two areas of the Emergency Alert System: one that addresses weather-related codes, the other that revises geographic codes for certain marine areas.

The FCC has indicated its support of these changes, and is asking for public comment within 30 days, with reply comments due within 45 days.

First up for discussion is whether the EAS alerting system adequately warns the public about impending extreme weather events. As it exists today, a three-character EAS event code is used to describe the nature of an alert — for example, “TOR” signifies a tornado.

Those codes don’t go far enough in some cases, the NWS told the FCC. As a result, the NWS requested that the FCC to create several new event codes, including a new Extreme Wind Warning code, “EWW,” to alert the public of pending extreme sustained surface winds. In addition, the NWS asked the FCC to add two new event codes covering storm surges — “Storm Surge Watch” (SSA) and “Storm Surge Warning” (SSW) — to indicate when there is a risk of life-threatening inundation from rising water as well as to mitigate damage from an existing surge.

The NPRM also proposes to change to two geographic codes within the EAS. Today, an EAS alert uses a six-digit numerical location code to identify the geographic location of the alert. Two locations, known as codes 75 and 77, should be redefined to provide a more accurate description of the exact offshore marine areas they cover.

The commission has indicated its support of these changes, saying in its NPRM that the current EAS rules do not go far enough to adequately warn of human health and property. Without a revision of the EAS rules, the FCC said, “we risk unnecessary harm to the public, a risk inconsistent with our statutory mandate of promoting the safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communication.”

As such, the FCC requests public comment on these two proposed changes, and whether the changes will better serve the public interest by providing more specific information. The commission is also seeking comment on the potential downsides of implementing these changes.

Several EAS manufacturers told the FCC that the additional costs associated with the addition the new EAS codes should be minimal and could generally be addressed by firmware or software updates.

Electronic comments can be filed here. Public comments to docket 15-94 are due within 30 days of publication in the Federal Register. Reply comments are due 45 days after initial publication.

Text has been updated to add the docket number.