The preamble of the nation’s next-generation emergency alert and public warning network has been written, metaphorically speaking. But a relatively new group of Emergency Alert System veterans is taking steps to make sure the final constitution includes input from the broadcast engineering community.
KKOH(AM), Reno, Nev. is the Local Primary 1 station for the Western Nevada/Eastern California Operational Area. PD Dan Mason, left, is a member of the SECC. Here, he’s supervising broadcast of an EAS RMT called in by a local public safety official. Former board op Roger ‘Sgt. John’ Clement is at right. The Broadcast Warning Working Group has filed several petitions with the FCC and says it will be proactive once the commission proposes changes to Part 11 to include a new digital distribution format and complete the long-awaited overhaul of EAS.
Of special interest to the group is how the FCC finalizes its EAS rules to use FEMA’s Integrated Alert Public Warning System and to distribute emergency messages via Common Alerting Protocol v1.2 — and, ultimately, how that will affect broadcasters.
In addition to helping develop “best practices” for the broadcast industry, the group has expressed some concerns about the timing of the proposed national EAS test and conformance testing of CAP-compliant EAS equipment by FEMA and the FCC. BWWG also seeks to be a resource for broadcasters who want to file comments with the FCC once the commission acts on Part 11.
The group formed in the fall of 2010 and consists of Rudman, vice-chair of the California EAS State Emergency Communications Committee; Adrienne Abbott, chair of the Nevada SECC; Clay Freinwald, chair of the Washington State SECC; Ann Arnold, president of the Texas Association of Broadcasters; Suzanne Goucher, president of the Maine Association of Broadcasters; engineer/blogger Barry Mishkind; and David Ostmo, director of operations for KABB/KMYS(TV) in San Antonio.
Texas Association of Broadcasters President Ann Arnold is a member of the Broadcast Warning Working Group. The group has an EAS wish list of sorts, with goals like clarifying how the Governor Must Carry message will work and developing a more streamlined way to adopt codes used by local EAS participants including emergency managers.
“There are so many technical pieces that have to fit together yet for [next-gen EAS] to work. The other members and I felt the need to address some of the issues others were not asking about,” Rudman said. “Especially with the biggest piece to puzzle to come yet when the FCC issues its NPRM to overhaul and completely rewrite Part of 11 of the rules.”
Still other questions need to be answered, according to the group.
BWWG was formed, according to its founders, because it perceives a lack of leadership in national EAS discussions by any broadcast engineering interest. Freinwald said he continues to support the Society of Broadcast Engineers though its EAS committee has refocused its efforts “on education and training at the station level.”
SBE President Vincent Lopez responded that the society has always had an education emphasis and that at times the leaders of its EAS efforts “have engaged in a broader public warning conversation and even helped our industries make better decisions by their participation.”
“At the October 2010 SBE Board of Directors meeting, SBE reaffirmed its commitment to be an important source of EAS education and information for our members.” This is not a departure, he said, but rather, “a re-committal to the core mission of the SBE,” adding that SBE EAS Committee has been renamed the SBE EAS Education Committee.
Freinwald’s public warning experience includes 10 years as chair of SBE’s EAS committee. He said the new BWWG effort really is a call to action for all broadcaster engineers.
Clay Freinwald. ‘We must fully engage with FEMA and the FCC to get this done.’ “If we don’t speak up as a group we’ll have no voice in what comes along. We must fully engage with FEMA and the FCC to get this done,” said Freinwald, whom Radio World recognized for contributions to the national EAS infrastructure with its Excellence in Engineering Award in 2007.
Alerting observers contacted for this article believe the FCC will address EAS equipment requirements and certification in the pending new Part 11 rules. It’s unclear how the FCC will handle testing for both EAS protocol and CAP decoding.
“It could be a simple certification on the part of the manufacturer or possible submission to an authorized test lab facility for certification,” said Rudman.
EAS participants must adopt CAP-EAS technology by Sept. 30, 2011. Rudman said the timeline for broadcasters to implement the system is going to be tight, considering the FCC hasn’t yet proposed new Part 11 rules. Encoder/decoder manufacturer Sage Alerting Systems estimated in March that the number of broadcasters with CAP-ready hardware is 25 percent.
Separately, FEMA is evaluating EAS equipment to determine if each device can accept and process messages as specified by CAP v1.2 protocol in the IPAWS profile. While not specifically certifying EAS gear, FEMA will post test results to a database as part of the IPAWS Conformity Assessment Program on the Responders Knowledge Base website and hoped to do so in March.
The BWWG is concerned about the Governor Must Carry (GMC) message and specifically mentioned some of those issues in its 2010 FCC petition. The GMC message is a new, mandatory gubernatorial alert. Details are expected to be included when the FCC acts on Part 11.
Group member Suzanne Goucher, president of the Maine Association of Broadcasters, is shown giving an EAS presentation in 2005. BWWG includes two state broadcast association presidents and three SECC leaders. Gubernatorial alert
“Will one governor’s activations in one state be mandatory for stations in neighboring states?” the group asked in its petition.
“What will be required of stations licensed to one state but with studios in another? Who will design the protocols for cross-border activations? Both FEMA and the FCC have apparently left details of these provisions up to volunteer state and local EAS committees.”
GMC, Freinwald said, is the wildcard in all of this. “How this gets done will determine whether broadcaster will be able to just add a CAP convertor to an existing EAS box. That is a tricky area because there is nothing in a legacy EAS box to generate a GMC. The legacy boxes could all be rendered useless depending on how the language is written.”
BWWG said states will have new roles and responsibilities with next-generation EAS. States will need to update their plans once the capability is introduced. Broadcasters will need to ensure their ability to accept such messages and get them on the air. The technical requirements for the mandatory governor’s message will necessitate an integrated CAP-EAS encoder/decoder.
Nevada Broadcasters Association paid for orange and blue binders that were printed up for the Western Nevada/Eastern California EAS plan and distributed to radio and TV stations covered by the plan as well as cable operators and emergency managers. Courtesy of Adrienne Abbott The group has expressed concern over the timing of an EAS national test, which could take place as early as this fall. The first Emergency Alert Notification live code activation will be designed to test radio stations’ ability to forward the president’s message.
“Testing with CAP just barely in place could do more harm than good to the overall perception of EAS effectiveness on the heels of what is being presented as a major EAS upgrade,” the group wrote in a recent FCC filing.
Organizing to present one voice to the commission on public warning issues is crucial, Abbott said. She said the goal of the group is to make sure the concept of next-generation EAS doesn’t get lost in the implementation process and that it works as intended.
“We aren’t scientists or sociologists, but for years we have been the ones who have had the job of making sure EAS works. We’re are the folks who push the buttons, open the mics and tell people there is a big, bad problem coming and this is what they’ve got to do to stay alive,” Abbott said. “The process is on track — we’re just not sure if the road is paved all the way to the end.”
While CAP will lead to messaging over a variety of platforms, like cell phones and the Internet, BWWG believes broadcasters will always maintain the most crucial role in the system.
“The warning is the headline for the story or emergency. Then you have to deliver the information and that is what broadcasters always will do better than Twitter, reverse 911 or the cell phone,” Rudman said.
Interested parties can participate in BWWG’s listserv at eas.radiolists.net.
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