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Robertson on CAP: It’s Not Just About Hardware

‘CAP EAS is about systems, not just individual devices’

This is one in a series of Q&As with industry leaders about the state of EAS. Bill Robertson, business development manager of Digital Alert Systems, talked with Radio World U.S. Editor in Chief Paul McLane.

RW: We’ve reported on the approval of CAP 1.2, the start of the shot clock and the filing of requests that the deadline be extended. As a supplier of hardware to broadcasters, what questions are you hearing most often from radio stations about all this?

Robertson: By far the most often-heard questions are “Has the 180-day clock started?” and “Is the FCC going to extend the deadline?”

RW: What are you telling stations right now about what they need to do regarding CAP compliance?

Robertson: An integrated CAP EAS encoder/decoder is the best solution. This is an enhanced version of the traditional EAS encoder/decoder mandated at all cable, TV and radio sites. A CAP EAS encoder/decoder, such as Digital Alert Systems’ DASDEC-II, is an FCC-certified device that features built-in CAP receiver capabilities.

Comprehensive, ongoing vendor support for these CAP EAS units is critical, and will allow broadcasters to respond quickly and easily to numerous changes in the federal CAP EAS requirements.

For example, having just introduced its Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) interface specifications, FEMA is already looking at an advanced IPAWS specification. Requirements also differ from state to state.

The bottom line: The government will keep updating CAP requirements and vendors must commit to keeping pace over the long term. Because of its design, Digital Alert Systems’ DASDEC-II enables easy software upgrades to evolving FEMA, state and local requirements, and accommodates the complexities of various station equipment interfaces.

RW: Monroe is involved with industry groups like CSRIC which advises the FCC and others. Given that perspective, what will happen next; what steps should our radio industry be watching for next from regulators or other bodies?

Robertson: Frankly, we’re all waiting for the next steps from the FCC.

For one thing, we’re estimating that the FCC will extend the 180-day clock, perhaps by six months to a year from the current start date. Many parties have commented to the FCC on this particular issue, including a fairly detailed recommendation from the FCC CSRIC advisory group that the clock be “not less than one year.”

Also, the FCC may take action on other issues raised by the CSRIC advisory group, including the recommendations that all CAP EAS devices be FCC-certified, just as the legacy units are today, and that Part 11 regulations be updated to accommodate CAP requirements. Both these tasks may take up to a year themselves.

However, the clock has started, and FEMA is moving steadily towards bringing its IPAWS system online for national EAS messaging. At the same time, a growing number of states and localities are making their own CAP EAS systems operational.

RW: If Part 11 of FCC rules has not been changed to incorporate CAP requirements, how can stations make a hardware decision and be confident they’ll comply with the rules that may be yet to come?

Robertson: It’s not just about hardware; it’s about the overall system — hardware, software and the support the vendor will put behind their products.

CAP is going to be an evolving set of requirements for the foreseeable future. Stations should consider whether their vendor has the commitment and capability to support their products through even major changes and government-mandated upgrades.

Digital Alert Systems’ parent company, Monroe Electronics, has been in business since 1954 with an impressive record of long-term product commitment and customer support. Customers can expect the same backing with our Digital Alert Systems CAP EAS equipment.

There are a few key elements in both Part 11 and the Second Report and Order (2007) that have direct applicability to a station’s decisions on equipment purchases. One, the FCC says that stations need to have the ability to accept a CAP message, first from FEMA IPAWS for national alerts, and second, from state and other sources for the activation of EAS. Quite simply, the act of translating CAP into EAS tones is encoding, as in the kind of encoding that squarely falls under Part 11. So, aside from the CSRIC and industry recommendations on FCC certification of CAP equipment, Part 11 itself still creates a requirement to use FCC-certified equipment. That’s one thing we think stations should bear in mind when making hardware decisions.

Broadcasters also need to look at what services and interfaces the CAP product supports. How easily can it be updated to meet the requirement of FEMA’s data interface standards? Is the vendor ready and capable of providing this level of software and system updates? These questions are important to ask now. We already know FEMA has at least two upgrades on their roadmap over the next two years or so.

RW: Briefly, what solution does your company offer to radio stations, and what does it cost?

Robertson: The DASDEC-II by Digital Alert Systems is a flexible emergency messaging platform designed to accommodate the requirements from the small, low-power station all the way to the largest remote and centralcasting operation all for the low starting price of $2695.

RW: Your company has argued that customers should be wary of a “converter box” approach. Why?

Robertson: Because of the regulatory and functional requirements for CAP EAS, we feel that broadcasters should be cautious when evaluating these kinds of external units, adaptors or software.

Presently these devices are not FCC-certified. The FCC CSRIC advisory council has recommended that all CAP EAS devices be FCC-certified, and this is a point also raised both by individual filings to the FCC, as well as in a petition recently submitted to the FCC by the NAB, SBE, NCTA and other major industry groups . To date, no such converter device has received FCC certification.

We don’t believe that these devices will fully support the functional requirements of the new CAP EAS environment, such as the new mandatory (or “must carry”) governor’s message. FEMA has adopted technical standards that would make it very difficult, if not impossible, for a CAP converter box to carry the new mandatory governor’s alert. For this reason, it is likely that CAP converter boxes will not be able to offer full FCC compliance. That’s just one issue, and we believe there may be others.

Finally, broadcasters should be mindful of the true total cost of these CAP converter boxes. Eventual replacement of the old EAS unit itself, and the likely need for satellite or wireless receivers, could add hundreds if not thousands of dollars to the actual cost of these systems.

The DASDEC-II is easily upgradable to meet the requirements of both CAP EAS and FEMA IPAWS, with no additional equipment required. In most cases, the DASDEC-II can be more effective than adding a separate CAP receiver to a legacy EAS unit. The DASDEC-II also provides the ability to put satellite/wireless data receiver cards into the unit, providing additional economies and the flexibility to connect to both federal and state CAP EAS networks.

RW: What else do radio engineers and managers need to know right now?

Robertson: Engineers and managers need to keep in mind that CAP EAS is about systems, not just individual devices.

EAS is being thrust into the IT world. Equipment choices need to be made with several key questions in mind: Will this equipment work with IPAWS, both now and in the future? Will this equipment work with whatever CAP system my state or local area implements? How will this equipment interface with my internal station systems? And how much will this equipment cost me, not just today, but for upgrades and support in the future?

Read Other Interviews in This Series