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Plans for New EAS Move Forward

Saying EAS needs improvements but not replacing, the Society of Broadcast Engineers along with a number of governmental entities continue working toward the launch of a new emergency alerting system.

Saying EAS needs improvements but not replacing, the Society of Broadcast Engineers along with a number of governmental entities continue working toward the launch of a new emergency alerting system.

A meeting coordinated by the SBE in the fall brought together the major players in the process, including officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, NAB, the FCC, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Alliance of State Broadcast Associations.

Engineering sources familiar with the meeting say FEMA is taking the lead in mapping the future emergency alerting system, which will include the Common Alert Protocol and incorporate non-broadcast wireless devices.

Broadcasters most likely will be forced to replace existing EAS equipment with CAP-capable decoders, according to the SBE. The FCC’s first Report and Order on EAS was released in 2005. Subsequently, second and third reports have been issued. The first stated that all participants will be required to have the capability to receive CAP-compliant EAS messages.

Replacement gear

“There is a strong likelihood that existing legacy EAS equipment will need to be replaced,” said Clay Freinwald, national SBE EAS Committee chairman.

“The gear and technology is 10 years old in some cases. Most of the current EAS equipment is not compatible with CAP. There will be replacement EAS gear that will be feature-rich and capable of CAP.”

Any launch of the next generation of EAS is at least a year away, Freinwald added.

“There are some manufacturers already producing EAS equipment that is CAP-capable and others are close to doing so,” Freinwald said.

The EAS is a national public warning system that requires broadcasters to make their communications facilities available to the president during a national emergency. State and local emergency authorities can also use the system.

Freinwald said yet to be determined is the “standardization of plans, equipment and procedures” of a next-generation EAS, including exactly what role broadcasters will play.

EAS is undergoing a tremendous transition from an audio voice-based approach to more of a text-based system, he said.

“Quite likely what we’ll find is the text message will be created by whomever and that message will be read by a text speech device built into the new EAS decoders at the broadcast stations. It would be similar to ‘Craig’ and ‘Donna,’ the automated voices of the National Weather Service,” Freinwald said.

Broadcasters’ voice

Freinwald compared a new EAS to “a public warning tool box” with options for local emergency managers to “reach into and determine the best means to get the attention of the public, whether it’s reverse 911, sirens or broadcast alerts.”

NAB is involved in EAS redevelopment to make sure broadcasters have a voice in the new system, said Kelly Williams, NAB senior director of engineering.

“FEMA is at the very top of this and has asked for our input. There still needs to be methodology put in place for us to so. They have not established ruling proceedings or advisory committees yet,” Williams said.

“At least we know which federal agency is driving the bus.”

Williams said the NAB would look for ways to minimize the cost and burden, particularly for small-market radio stations, of any new EAS equipment requirement.

FEMA was expected to present a first assessment of architecture of a new EAS to White House staff at the beginning of 2008, Freinwald said.

Rob Kenny, spokesman for the FCC’s public safety and homeland security bureau, said, “The whole transition from analog to digital EAS is going to bring benefit to the American public, primarily through better integration of digital messaging.”

The FCC’s EAS Report and Order requires all EAS participants to be able to capture CAP messages within 180 days of FEMA adopting CAP.

“Broadcasters have been receptive to these changes. We haven’t heard or seen any major issues with them that would lead to a delay in rollout when it is announced,” Kenny said.

FEMA and NWS officials declined comment for this story.

The major stakeholders in EAS were expected to meet for further discussions in late January. More details of the next generation of EAS may become available during the National EAS Summit, a joint effort coordinated by NAB and NASBA, scheduled for Feb. 24–25 in Washington.

For a summary of the EAS Second Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which revises the FCC Part 11 EAS Rules go