EAS moves further into a new era this year, as the FCC Fifth Report and Order adopting new EAS rules takes effect. A series of panels on the Wednesday morning of the NAB Show will discuss the state of EAS and CAP. A return engagement from last year’s show features most of the manufacturers’ representatives of EAS equipment.
Enormous changes and improvements in EAS have occurred over the past year as the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Emergency Management Agency, state associations, equipment makers and broadcasters have collaborated to make EAS more responsive.
Radio World asked panelists what broadcasters are most concerned about regarding CAP deployment, IPAWS server operations and overall compliance with the proposed new EAS rules.
Sage Endec .ES2 file configuration page allows the user to configure the unit and save settings to a file on their LAN for safe-keeping, modifications and restoration as necessary.
Harold Price, president of Sage Alerting Systems Inc., says, “The general broadcast community is mainly worried about getting the access information for the FEMA (IPAWS) server to receive CAP messages. Secondary questions are about access to various state servers. The issue is that there is no standard for getting a CAP message from a state server. “Even though a state might have a CAP alert server, some of them are CAP 1.1 only and use custom data exchange protocols. We’re working with vendors to get the access protocols and try to move them to CAP 1.2 and the IPAWS profile.”
William Robertson, vice president of business development at Digital Alert Systems, says primary questions from his DASDEC customers are, “How do I connect to IPAWS servers, and when will they start sending CAP messages, including weather alerts?Depending on who you talk to and where they’re geographically located, you’re bound to get different answers,” he said.
Some states are active getting their state EAS systems equipped and configured for CAP. A veritable blizzard of tests is coming through the systems from FEMA and state EAS origination servers in many areas. Sage’s Harold Price said, “In 10 days in February, my test ENDEC (with filters wide open) received 2,253 alerts. Users won’t need to see all of these, of course.”
The other major question and concern voiced by broadcasters and equipment manufacturers involves Text to Speech.
Automatic TTS conversion of EAS messages has been touted as one of the most important and significant improvements offered in the new EAS. Yet the FCC chose to pull back from allowing use of TTS in the Fifth R&O. They apparently prefer to wait and let the technology evolve further to resolve minor bugs observed in some areas where TTS has been deployed.
Most EAS stakeholders seem disappointed in this decision. One is Matthew Straeb, executive vice president of Global Security Systems LLC.
“There is a concern regarding the elimination of Text to Speech, which has forced broadcasters and emergency officials to take off the table a tool for usage. With the current situation, broadcasters will be building creation and delivery networks to support audio messages, which introduces new challenges and costs. They are evaluating the use of Internet delivery, which can be cumbersome and unreliable.” In March, FEMA and a group of equipment manufacturers separately asked the FCC to reconsider the planned deferral of text-to-speech. The manufacturers warned of “very significant and potentially adverse implications” that would result from the decision to disallow use of text-to-speech technology in CAP receivers.
This Digital Alert Systems image shows a CAP message decoded from a NOAA CAP feed. A company spokeswoman noted the ‘wealth of information available in the CAP message.’ The display includes an associated audio file of 92.156 seconds. ‘We also store and can show (via the hyperlink at the bottom) the raw XML file.’
The FEMA IPAWS servers now rely exclusively on the Internet to deliver their EAS messages and tests. Many see this as the weakest link in the new scheme. Most broadcasters have provided a LAN Internet connection to their new EAS decoders but will also need to configure their IPAWS source connection carefully.
Robertson said,“The IPAWS messages currently cover large regions, (i.e. entire states, not single FIPS codes) so you’ll need to configure the equipment to better filter the specific events requiring response or forwarding.”
Panel participants will discuss last fall’s national EAN test and the follow-up evaluation of what went wrong and needs to be improved.
“Even though the test was not perfect,” Price said, “it did allow broadcasters to make sure that their equipment would handle the special attributes of the EAN, and make sure they did have a way to receive EAN messages and get the audio, such as it was, on the air.”
The participants we contacted felt that another EAN test is likely later this year. However, Robertson cautioned, “Many people think the next test will be CAP-based, and that’s just not the plan at the moment, as far as we know. We’re still sorting out legacy EAS here, and CAP testing will be later.”
Many broadcasters feel the EAS Required Weekly Test should be eliminated or modified in the new EAS rules. But most equipment people don’t think that’s going to happen and still see value in the RWT, even for stations that are not monitored by others.
Sage’s Price maintains, “It is the only way stations can make sure their receivers are working without waiting for the monthly test … and is the best way to make sure that the EAS equipment is getting on the air, since an RWT can be sent at any time without fear of confusing any monitoring stations.”
The FCC at this writing was still in the process of reviewing comments about the Fifth R&O. GSS’s Straeb says the comment review “will be focused on the elimination of Text to Speech and streamlining equipment certification.” EAS equipment manufacturers are working on providing a software patch that will allow turning off the TTS feature for now.
Several EAS discussions are part of the Wednesday session “Technical Regulatory Issues for Engineers,” part of the Broadcast Engineering Conference at the NAB Show.