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The Good, Bad & Ugly of National EAS Test Dissected

Industry representatives discuss areas to focus on in wake of national test

Many things went well during the first national test of the Emergency Alert System.

That’s one theme we heard during a followup webinar Tuesday, when industry representatives and regulators discussed problems that occurred during the Nov. 9 test.

FEMA Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Division Director and Project Manager Antwane Johnson said overall, the test went very well despite a few glitches and the effort has raised the visibility of EAS.

The first nationwide test, he said, “also challenges us to roll up our sleeves” and “now the real hard work starts” by correcting anomalies that were found and by making EAS robust.

As we’ve reported, FEMA Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Program Manager Manny Centeno said feedback onto FEMA’s phone bridge for the Primary Entry Point system caused the double audio and double message headers that many stations heard during the test. He chalked it up to a technical malfunction, which he described as an anomaly, not a systemic failure of EAS.

The issue has been addressed and corrected, he said.

Though the test went off on time at 2 p.m. Eastern, FEMA’s originating equipment had a different time-stamp. Some encoders/decoders relayed the message immediately while others held the alert until exactly that time, Centeno said.

Webinar participants discussed whether regulation is needed to standardize how EAS equipment handles all issues but seemed to decide that an industry-led solution would be better.

NAB Senior Director of Engineering and Technology Policy Kelly Williams said, “We need to get manufacturers on the same page” as to how their devices handle an EAN. The time-stamp issue, he said, “is a simple fix.” There was no way to have prepared for the “audio anomaly,” he said, adding that if the actual alert is longer next time, that would give stations an opportunity to recover from such a problem.

SBE EAS Committee Chair Scott Mason said there needs to be a report from manufacturers on how their devices performed so the industry can “correct the problems and try it again.”

“The audio muting problem definitely hurt us,” said Mason, noting the second set of audio tones muted the EAS equipment at several stations. To him, that earned the test a “fail” grade.

There was no consensus on when there should be another test. Some participants would like to retest soon while broadcasters are still in “test mode.” Others feel it best to wait until more data have been gathered and analyzed and there’s time to test possible solutions. Still others feel there could be mini “closed-circuit” tests of specific fixes.

Greg Cooke, associate chief of the Policy Division of the FCC’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau, suggested re-visiting the question in the New Year, after broadcasters have turned in their follow-up reports; those are due Dec. 27.