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Mixed Reactions So Far to FCC’s New BLU Code

While the commission and DOJ support new alert proposal, others are critical

There have been some interesting reactions so far to the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to add an alert option to the nation’s Emergency Alert System.

In June, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to create a Blue Alert that would be used by authorities to notify the public — through TV and radio — of threats to law enforcement officers and to help apprehend suspects. The alerts would be used in cases where a law enforcement officer is missing, injured or killed in the line of duty, or when there is an imminent threat to an officer.

If adopted, the FCC would amend its rules by creating a dedicated Blue Alert event code, BLU, so that state and local agencies have the option to send the warnings through broadcast, cable, satellite and wireline video providers.

The move has been applauded by the Department of Justice, which helped prompt it; but early comments filed to the FCC’s ECFS database have been decidedly critical.

One individual called the move a “purely political sop” to police organizations, saying that there’s no need for yet another EAS code “that nobody will use.”

“What good does a BLU code actually accomplish?” asked Rhode Island commenter Aaron Read. “There are only two possible outcomes from a BLU code: either the populace will cower in fear somewhere … or they encourage [vigilante justice.] Neither scenario is either useful nor helpful to a healthy society. Let’s try using EAS in a way that actually works, shall we?”

Others were even more blunt. “This is the stupidest waste of resources I have ever heard of,” wrote Idaho resident Stephen Raymond. Whereas the nation’s AMBER Alert code has a meaningful purpose in alerting the public to children who often cannot fend for themselves, “this proposal only serves as a media platform for law enforcement,” he said. “These agencies are already well connected to each other with a myriad of high tech communications channels. Causing alarm in the general public by continually pumping out information about any event deemed significant by the same agencies will serve no one.”

Yet another commenter raised the issue of potential vigilante behavior. “While I fully support the safety of law enforcement officers and the public, I am concerned that implementation of a Blue Alert into Part 11 EAS rules may provoke some in the general public to take action in a counter-productive manner,” said Wisconsin resident Tom May. He said the FCC should seriously study the effect that this change may have on the general public before it is implemented, also expressing concern that implementation of this could be “used maliciously as a tool to gain political advantage or public favor.”

“Such a powerful tool requires a check and balance outside of law enforcement to ensure it is utilized in a responsible manner,” he said.

Chairman Pai and Commissioners Clyburn and O’Rielly all voted in support of the NPRM, with Pai saying that this step serves not only to advance a policy but is “affirming a principle: that we have a collective responsibility to protect and serve those who protect and serve us.”

O’Rielly wrote recently, “While some localities have used other codes for such purposes, it is a helpful exercise to understand whether a new code is needed and the potential benefits of a nationwide code. Ultimately, when, where, and how to use this code would be up to the discretion of local law enforcement agencies. They will have to make the ultimate judgment call about whether releasing such information is likely to facilitate their efforts.”

During remarks at the FCC in June, Justice Department Policy Analyst Vince Davenport said that a designated code would “dramatically improve the effectiveness” of the Justice Department’s new National Blue Alert Network and “most importantly, would save lives.” The department initiated the network after two New York Police Department officers were killed in an ambush attack in 2014.

Radio World will continue to report on posted comments including any by NAB and other industry groups.

The public is invited to comment on the proposal, which is part of PS Docket No. 15-94. The deadline for those comments will be set after the NPRM is formally posted in the Federal Register.