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Feds Agree EAS Needs More National Testing

Annual tests at a minimum; further hardening, increasing number of PEPs also planned; accommodating the disabled

We’ve reported that FEMA and the FCC plan to conduct more, longer, national EAS tests and now comes the official word from both federal agencies.

Damon Penn, assistant administrator for National Continuity Programs at FEMA, told a congressional panel Tuesday that after broadcasters report their EAS results to the FCC by Dec. 27, FEMA will be able to determine the extent of the successes and limitations of the Nov. 9 national test. Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau, agreed.

Maine Association of Broadcasters President/CEO Suzanne Goucher, testifying on behalf of NAB, noted that officials are addressing the audio and reception problems experienced by many stations during the national test and broadcasters support the plan by FEMA and the FCC to test EAS “on at least an annual basis.”

Broadcasters are working with FEMA to ensure that EAS via over-the-air radio and TV “remains the central backbone of the next generation of public alerting,” said Goucher in her written testimony.

Much of Penn’s testimony centered on how to improve the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, including making it accessible to people with disabilities. FEMA IPAWS has partnered with organizations like NPR “to demonstrate products that incorporate Common Alerting Protocol-enabled (CAP) technologies to alert persons with access and functional needs,” he stated. National Public Radio has demonstrated and is working on using CAP-compliant messages to deliver alerts through NPR digital radio to prototype devices that activate a bed shaker, display an audio alert in text and output the text to a Braille printer, according to Penn.

FEMA continues to expand and harden Primary Entry Point stations, going from 36 PEPs in 2009 to 63 now with three more under construction, he said in testimony before a subcommittee of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. By the end of 2012, 77 PEP stations will cover more than 90% of the population, according to Penn.

“New PEP stations use a standard configuration, saving maintenance costs and ensuring ease of movement between stations. Stations also have the ability to operate under extreme conditions and possess backup equipment and power. Legacy stations will be retrofitted to meet the current PEP station resiliency standards,” said Penn.