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Final EAS-CAP Rules Allow Converters, Eliminate Gubernatorial Alerts

FCC outlines transitional framework to incorporate Common Alerting Protocol

WASHINGTON: The final rules governing the new Emergency Alert System protocol allow for the use of converters and eliminate the requirement to transmit alerts initiated by state governors. The Federal Communications Commission this week laid out its directive regarding the incorporation of Common Alerting Protocol, an XML-based format for EAS messages that allows for multiplatform distribution and updates.

“Because the order does not impose new obligations but primarily details the manner in which EAS participants must implement the CAP requirement, the rules we adopt today will impose minimal new costs, particularly as many EAS Participants have already purchased and installed CAP-compatible EAS equipment,” the Order states.

CAP is part of a federal overhaul of the nation’s various emergency alert systems, including those for broadcasting, telephone systems and the National Weather Service. They operate in silos. The broadcast system, for example, functions as a type of daisy chain, with notifications filtering down a list of radio and TV stations and cable headends. CAP allows interoperability among the systems and incorporates alert capability for cellphone networks, the Internet and electronic billboards.

In its Fifth Report and Order, the commission outlined its actions as follows:

Limits obligations to those necessary to process CAP-formatted alerts the same way as current EAS-protocol (SAME) alerts.
Under the current EAS protocol–Specific Area Message Encoding, or SAME–when the EAS decoder receives message, it also receives the audio associated with that message. When a CAP-enabled EAS decoder receives a CAP-formatted message, it may play back the audio file or retrieve streaming audio from another source. The Order requires that participants to maintain the use of SAME protocol for the time being.

“For example,” it states, “in emergencies that result in outages of power, cellular telephone service, or Internet connectivity, IP-based services like CAP-based alerting systems may not be available, and the broadcast-based legacy EAS may be the only reliable means of disseminating emergency alerts to the public, because messages can be received on battery-powered radios and televisions.”

Permits the use of standalone intermediary devices.
Compliance can be achieved using gear that converts CAP code to the SAME protocol for processing by legacy EAS decoders.

Eliminates the requirement that participants receive and transmit CAP alerts initiated by state governors.
“We conclude that the existing definition in Sec. 11.1, which covers federal, state, and local government users, and their designees, is broad enough to capture all authorized users of the EAS, whether they initiate SAME-formatted messages or CAP-formatted messages,” the order said.

Streamlines rules for presidential Emergency Action Notifications, or EANs.
EAN messages must receive priority over all other EAS messages, regardless of format.

Requires EAS participants to be able to process CAP-formatted messages following a standard procedure.
The procedure is defined by the EAS-CAP Industry Group’s Implementation Guide. Exceptions are made for text-to-speech alerts an gubernatorial CAP messages.

Allows IPAWS monitoring using “whatever interface technology is appropriate.
Participants are required to monitor the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System for CAP-formatted federal alerts. The commission determined that it was “unrealistic” to require adherence to a specific standard for monitoring. “The technical parameters of the IPAWS system are still evolving,” it said.

Requires the use of enhanced text.
Visual display elements, including originator, event, location and valid time period of the EAS message must be derived from CAP text data.

Streamlines equipment certification.
The rules require CAP processors to have at least one audio and one data input port, and they eliminate the minimal 1,200 baud rate. Decoders will have to be able to convert CAP messages to the SAME protocol, and have selecting display and logging of message text.

An update to the FCC Mapbook of the broadcast notification configuration was tabled until the commission could complete it’s review of the Nov. 9, 2011 nationwide EAS test.

The overhaul was ordered by President Bush in 2006 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Deadline for implementation is June 30, 2012. Waivers will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

~Deborah D. McAdams, TV Technology