Regulators Appear Firm on EAS Deadline

Suppliers begin posting conformance declarations
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Broadcasters soon will know more about their responsibilities in implementing next-generation EAS.



It’s an important step given that stations have had to plan to meet a compliance deadline before all rules and procedures were in place.



The FCC’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau has drafted a rulemaking aimed at changing Part 11 procedures to allow for Common Alerting Protocol delivery of next-generation EAS, according to bureau chief Jamie Barnett. He said at the spring NAB Show that he hoped the proposal would circulate among commissioners soon. Stations are anxious to see it and submit comments to the agency.



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FEMA will require that emergency alert originators are trained before they can access the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System to deliver next-gen EAS alerts using the Common Alerting Protocol. It conducted EAS-CAP workshops for broadcasters at the recent NAB Show. Photo by Jim Peck CAP-compliant EAS encoders/decoders must be purchased, installed and operational by the end of September — unless the commission again extends the deadline. But such an extension seems unlikely based on comments by agency officials during an EAS session at the convention.



Regulators and broadcasters “may not be 100 percent ready” by the Sept. 30 deadline, yet the transition needs to proceed, said Wade Witmer, deputy division director of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.



He concurred with Sage Alerting Systems President Harold Price, who said that no matter what deadline is established, some stations would delay buying CAP-compliant EAS encoders/decoders. Price also reiterated comments that the industry’s supply channel is up to its task at hand.



“It’s not true that manufacturers can’t make the boxes fast enough,” Price said. “There is a conformance test. Some manufacturers have passed that. A lot of broadcasters had it in the budget.





“With the last extension, stations decided to wait. If you delay another year, people will wait to buy equipment.” Numerous radio stations and groups are still in the process of deciding which EAS products to adopt, leading to the likelihood of more big purchasing decisions and price haggling between suppliers and users this spring.



Randy Woods of WPOZ(FM), Orlando, Fla., a Primary Entry Point station, said the required outlay is not onerous. “This is a $2,000 device.” He said WPOZ is one of dozens of PEP outlets that must have a CAP-compliant EAS encoder/decoder. “Broadcasters have known about this for years. Let the September deadline roll. Let the chips fall.”



EAS consultant and broadcast engineer Richard Rudman questioned whether Sept. 30 deadline should be a hard deadline. He wondered if it gives enough time to broadcasters as well as EAS message originators, which typically are local governments.



“I’m finding out some state alerting groups don’t exist anymore,” he said. In any given state with a new governor and little to no money for emergency planning, that is a problem, he said. Local originators new to alerting, he added, will need “lots of training.”



Training



FEMA will require that emergency alert originators take training before accessing its Integrated Public Alert and Warning System to deliver next-gen EAS alerts using the Common Alerting Protocol, according to Damon Penn, assistant administrator for National Continuity Programs at FEMA.



The FEMA Emergency Management Institute will conduct the mandatory training in the same manner as other National Incident Management System courses that first responders must complete.



“This is welcome news for broadcasters, who have long wanted greater visibility for EAS among first responders,” according to broadcast engineer Gary Timm. He retired from Journal’s WTMJ(AM) in Milwaukee last year and is now an engineering consultant active in EAS.



FEMA also has been beefing up PEP stations in anticipation of migrating to next-gen EAS, in an effort to reach 90 percent of the U.S. population directly in an emergency. A PEP station is the president’s gateway to the broadcast community to transmit a presidential message; those stations have special equipment designed to interrupt the broadcast stream, according to Antwane Johnson, division director and program manager for FEMA’s IPAWS office.



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Antwane Johnson, left, division director and program manager for FEMA’s IPAWS office, and Gregory Cooke, associate chief of the Policy Division in the FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. Photo by Jim Peck “They are structured to survive in all-hazard conditions” as well as “operate for 60 days without a broadcast infrastructure to support them,” he said.



A dozen PEP stations have been added recently to the 36 already in place. Nineteen more are scheduled to be added by the end of the year, said Johnson, while 13 “legacy” PEP stations are slated for improvement.



The commission also is prepping for a national test of the CAP-EAS; the date has not been set. The FCC’s Barnett said broadcasters will have at least two months’ notice before the national test. “We want to do preview testing” as well as post-test analysis, he said.



He reassured broadcasters who worry about being fined for mistakes during the national test. “We’re not looking for enforcement actions. We’re looking to make sure the system works.”



The FEMA booth at the NAB Show again demonstrated that Common Alerting Protocol-delivered EAS messages can be generated, transported and broadcast in various ways. There are two satellite delivery systems for CAP messages, and both RDS and HD Radio text can be used for enhanced alert delivery to the radio audience. FEMA conducted EAS workshops at the convention.



In the weeks after NAB, equipment makers announced the progress of their “conformance declarations” through the regulatory bureaucracy.



Digital Alert Systems’ Senior Director of Strategy, Development and Regulatory Affairs Ed Czarnecki said, “IPAWS CAP-conformant vendors are finally beginning to be listed on the FEMA Responders Knowledge Base website.” FEMA earlier began notifying manufacturers whose equipment passed its Conformity Assessment testing.



Harold Price of Sage stated of the Conformity Assessment program, “FEMA has now completed another milestone on the way to the CAP rollout, by providing a non-partisan mechanism for manufacturers to show conformance, and a way for buyers to get confidence that the equipment they’ve purchased is suitable for use with CAP.”



Broadcasters can find copies of IPAWS Conformity Assessment Program Test Reports at www.rkb.us under the “Certifications & Declarations” tab.



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