A report that’s just come to light validates the benefits of using a Radio Broadcast Data System to deliver alerts to individuals during emergencies. One of the upshots that could potentially be seen because of the report is that more FM chips are enabled in cellphones so the handsets can act as RBDS receivers.
Congress wanted FEMA to study how RBDS could be used with its Integrated Public Alert and Warning System for CAP EAS. FEMA says to improve the speed and penetration of federal, state and local emergency alerts and warnings, the agency is evaluating RBDS to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the alerting distribution infrastructure.
In 2010, Northrop Grumman prepared the report on tests conducted in 2009. FEMA IPAWS has now published the report on its website with a caveat that the findings shouldn’t be considered an endorsement by FEMA. Northrop Grumman, however, says the study validates the usefulness of RBDS to deliver alerts.
“RBDS technology is resilient because multiple broadcasters providing overlapping FM coverage and individual broadcaster backup transmitters and generators ensure rapid recovery from an all-hazard event,” notes the contractor in the report.
Minority languages were supported by the RBDS technology during the demonstrations, according to Northrop Grumman, which adds “the technology is challenging for Alert Originators to create an accurate translation of the alert messages within a timely manner, and for alert receivers to have the necessary character sets to display the received messages. A technology enhancement would include the use of symbology to represent the emergency and the action to be taken.”
Geographical targeting was successfully demonstrated by the RBDS technology, says the contractor. The technology works “exceptionally well” for stationary receivers. “Mobile receivers could be manually configured to activate based upon geographical targeting and activated when these geographically targeted messages were issued. A technology enhancement to the mobile receiver would allow emergency alerts to be received automatically based upon the current geographical location of the receiver.”
Three areas that would further enhance RBDS insertion into the IPAWS architecture, according to the contractor: enabling cellphones as RBDS receivers, improving RBDS message dissemination and originating CAP messages in RBDS.
The first is the most dramatic, with the contractor noting: “Enabling cellular phones as RBDS receivers … will provide a single platform with multiple alerting mechanisms, increasing the likelihood that an emerging alert is received at the platform. Inclusion of RBDS into cellular handsets can be an effective hedge against issues in receiving cellular transmissions, including network congestion during emergency periods and reduction in cellular network coverage due to vulnerabilities of cell towers.”
Suggestions in the report to FEMA if RBDS were to be incorporated more fully into the IPAWS infrastructure include: a mandate to cellular carriers to activate FM/RBDS chips in existing cellphones and mobile devices as well as a mandate for carriers to work with their CE manufacturers to include FM/RBDS chips in in all of their models. Another suggestion is to “encourage consumer electronics manufacturers to install the FM/RBDS chip into their products, thus extending the number of potential RBDS receivers.”
Note in the three scenarios tested, the report lists areas that performed well and those that need improvement, starting on page 3.