Saving Lives or Wrecking Radio?

Broadcasters object to systems to warn motorists of emergency vehicles
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Broadcasters object to systems to warn motorists of emergency vehicles

Broadcasters object to systems to warn motorists of emergency vehicles

WASHINGTON Someday soon, if a handful of companies get their way, drivers around the United States will hear something new on their car radios: "Emergency vehicle approaching. Prepare to yield."

Emotions run high in the debate over proposed systems that would alert drivers to emergency response teams behind them that need to get through traffic.

Supporters of the technology argue that car interiors have become more soundproof and that louder audio systems make it less likely a driver can hear the siren of an approaching emergency vehicle.

Yet broadcast groups say the proposed systems override or jam AM and FM signals and would wreak havoc with local stations.

The opposing positions are apparent in comments filed with the FCC in response to the newly proposed emergency vehicle alert systems that proponents say could save lives. The commission has turned down one proposal, but is reconsidering that decision and is reviewing another.


An Emergency Vehicle Signaling Service involves the installation of a low-power transmitter in emergency vehicles. The alert service uses the AM and FM bands to transmit a warning directly to car radios that are already in use, overriding the audio of broadcasters. The message would alert drivers that public safety and emergency vehicles are engaged in an emergency response situation in their proximity.
Injured Trooper Founded ADiCorpWOBURN, Mass. George Derome Jr. founded Alert Devices International Corp. in 1999. The company, based in Woburn, Mass., hopes eventually to sell radio alert transmitters to law enforcement and emergency responders.

Derome is a former Massachusetts state trooper who was run down by a car while trying to secure an accident scene. According to the company's Web site, Derome has undergone 47 surgeries on his left leg since the accident in 1983.

ADiCorp petitioned the FCC in 2003 to amend the commission's rules to allow the company to sell its Radio Alert Transmitter and establish an Emergency Vehicle Signaling Service, which uses the AM and FM bands of a car radio to relay alerts about approaching public safety vehicles.

After retiring from law enforcement in 1993, Derome said he reflected upon his accident and started looking for ways to help protect emergency responders.

"I'm convinced from all my years in law enforcement that (EVSS) will work to cut down response times and prevent a number of accidents for emergency responders," Derome said.

- by Randy J. Stine
The alert service would affect both mobile receivers and fixed radio in residences or businesses.

Two companies within the past year, Safety Cast Corp. and Alert Devices International Corp., have sought the FCC's approval of EVSS systems. They say they have public safety in mind and that EVSS protects both public safety providers and motorists.

A third company, AlertCast Communications LLC, has proposed the use of EVSS in California. Calls to AlertCast for this story were not returned.

Several organizations, including the NAB and the Society of Broadcast Engineers, oppose EVSS. They argue that it could override Emergency Alert System messages and that such a system is likely to interfere with the AM and FM radios of people living in houses or working near urban areas where emergency vehicles most often travel.

ADiCorp petitioned the FCC last year to make changes to Parts 2 and 90 of the commission's rules to allow emergency vehicle warnings to be transmitted over AM and FM broadcast signals.

The company says its Radio Alert Transmitter unit transmits a tone and then verbal warning over the entire standard AM and FM bands at a range of 600 feet. Transmitter power levels would fluctuate between 15 mW and 45 mW, depending on the speed of the emergency vehicle. The cost of an ADiCorp EVSS unit is approximately $985.

'Vastly lower power'

Tom Macone, president of ADiCorp's emergency alerting division, said the Radio Alert Transmitter does not "overpower" radio station signals.

"The EVSS signal is steadier and cleaner than the broadcast signal and transmits slightly off-center in the broadcast channel, which allows a car radio to grab the line-of-sight signal instead of the broadcast signal," Macone said.

"Because the EVSS signal is off-center, the car radio preferentially grabs the EVSS signal despite broadcasting at vastly lower power," he said.

The NAB stated in its comments on the Petition for Rulemaking that ADiCorp failed to submit technical specifications for the device.

"Alert Devices' purported purpose, to alert motorists of emergency and public safety vehicles, is a laudable goal, but it is far from clear that its proposal is the best means of achieving that goal," according to NAB's comments.

The broadcaster trade group also asked the commission to order ADiCorp to stop selling EVSS transmitters over the Internet. Macone says ADiCorp is using the Internet as a "worldwide marketing tool" and not selling the Radio Alert Transmitter unit in the United States.

"The unit has been approved for use in Canada. But we are not selling it there yet, either," Macone said. "We are very concerned with the regulation of the service."

ADiCorp has since added the following message to its Web site: "This device has not been authorized as required by the rules of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. This device is not, and may not be, offered for sale or lease, or sold or leased, for use in the United States until authorization is obtained."

'Dangerous precedent'

SBE has similar concerns with how EVSS works.

"The system proposed by ADiCorp is deeply and fundamentally flawed, and would set a dangerous precedent for further damage to spectrum integrity," the engineering group wrote in its comments to the FCC.

Comments on ADiCorp's Petition for Rulemaking were due March 31 after the company received an extension.

Meanwhile, Safety Cast applied for Special Temporary Authority from the commission in early 2003 to test its EVSS technology in Jacksonville, Fla. In July 2003, the FCC dismissed the Safety Cast application.

Ed De La Hunt, associate chief of the FCC's audio services division, said the dismissal of Safety Cast's prior application was based on a staff determination that the experimental application would result in destructive interference in violation of the FCC's Part 74 rules.

"Specifically, we determined that the experimental operation would cause predicted interference within the 60 dBu projected contours of several radio stations in (the Jacksonville) area," De La Hunt said.

Safety Cast officials acknowledge there would be a temporary interruption of radio service when an EVSS unit is engaged. But they say the interruption would be minimal, and the amount of the broadcast area affected would be small.

The FCC is reconsidering the Safety Cast application at the request of the company.

"There has been a rush to judgment by some in the broadcast industry on this technology. We believe ourselves to be a friend of broadcasters," said Robin Wilson, vice president of marketing for Safety Cast.

Safety Cast officials believe EVSS will save lives by allowing the use of radio frequencies to alert a specific group of people in a specific area.

"We are not cracking a walnut with a sledgehammer here. We can communicate directly with people right at a point where they can make a decision about their personal safety," Wilson said.


As a public safety vehicle approaches traffic from behind, Wilson said, the Safety Cast message includes a non-intrusive alert tone and audio message: "Emergency vehicle approaching. Prepare to yield."

Wilson said if an emergency vehicle is parked on the shoulder of the roadway, the alert message reads: "Officer on roadside. Be alert."

Opponents of EVSS say they are simply advocating for non-interference with existing broadcast services.

"The actual technology involves jamming existing signals, which would probably be fairly indiscriminate and probably affect non-intended target radios - for instance, cars traveling in the opposite direction on a freeway," said Larry Estlack, director of technology for the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.

Mark Manuelian, chair of the EAS Primary Entry Point Advisory Committee, said his main concern with EVSS is that it would interfere with EAS messages.

"Some EVSS proponents say they could curtail its use during an EAS alert. That seems impractical since all EAS alerts are broadcast at different times over different radio stations," Manuelian said.

Both companies say their second-generation versions of the technology would fix that problem.

ADiCorp officials said their EVSS system will not interfere with the public's reception of EAS messages, because each EVSS transmitter will be programmed to monitor primary EAS stations in each local market for an EAS attention signal. The transmitter will turn off upon its receipt and remain off for the duration of the EAS transmission.

Wilson said the Safety Cast version of EVSS can "opt out" local primary EAS radio stations when warnings are being broadcast.

Several other broadcast engineers believe the public safety officials to whom ADiCorp and Safety Cast are marketing have little understanding of the technical hurdles involved.

"This is clearly a concept driven by sales and not engineering," said Clay Freinwald, chairman of SBE's EAS Committee.

Bill Croghan, vice chair of Nevada's EAS committee, said such a system could create more problems than benefits.

"What happens when multiple responders all have their EVSS units on? It could create confusion. If these EVSS transmitters, which are essentially jammers, were in use by multiple responders in an area, they would likely jam each other, too," Croghan said.

In addition to having doubts about whether EVSS transmitters would be compatible with HD Radio, the NAB suggests ADiCorp consider using the 5.9 GHz spectrum for its service, which the commission recently allocated for a wide range of emergency warnings.

The FCC in February adopted licensing and service rules for the Dedicated Short Range Communications Service in the Intelligent Transportation Systems Radio Service in the 5.850-5.925 GHz band (5.9 GHz band).

Dedicated short-range communications involves vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, which can warn drivers of an impending dangerous condition.

"It would make more sense to equip new vehicles with a low-cost receiver on a unique frequency," Manuelian said, "instead of relying on a jamming technique."

A spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Association said the trade association had reviewed ADiCorp's EVSS request, but had not taken a position on its use.


New York City EAS Plan Unveiled

City officials and broadcasters here think an agreement using the Emergency Alert System to allow Mayor Michael Bloomberg to warn of public safety emergencies is exactly what the emergency notification system should be used for.

AdiCorp Redesigns EVSS Device

One of the companies developing an Emergency Vehicle Signaling Service believes it will soon have new test data to convince critics the technology is viable.

Group Sees No Major EAS Overhaul

The FCC could begin discussions this summer on recommendations from the Media Security and Reliability Council on ways to ensure the delivery of emergency information via public warning systems in this country. Yet warning experts expect the process to be "measured and deliberate" and that any immediate overhaul of the Emergency Alert System is unlikely.

EBS to EAS to What?

As the U.S. Department of Homeland Security positions itself to take the lead on public warning in this country, sources at the FCC say the commission will soon begin considering recommendations for a new public warning system to enhance or possibly replace the Emergency Alert System.