When it comes to the changes proposed by the Federal Communications Commission for the nation’s Emergency Alert System, much more remains to be done. That’s the assessment of the National Weather Service, which filed comments about the FCC’s Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alerts Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
While WEA and EAS are essential parts of the nation’s larger warning network, NWS told the commission, technological and geo-targeting limitations of EAS often make it less relevant to the public.
NWS, which is tasked with providing weather forecasts and warnings of hazardous weather, pointed out that its warning information is often richer and more meaningful than EAS is capable of conveying.
“The current EAS paradigm features a mismatch between large broadcaster footprints and the level of specificity to which the NWS warns,” it wrote in its filing this month. This is a problem that has been particularly acute in parts of the southwest United States, it said.
“Broadcasters are unable to geo-target NWS warnings at the polygon or even the county level,” it wrote. Polygon warnings — named such because the warning covers a specific polygon-shaped area within a county — were first issued by the NWS in 2007. “Instead, broadcasters must make a choice to broadcast/render the alert on all televisions/radios in their broadcast footprints or none at all, thereby not conveying potentially life-saving information to the public.”
“Particularly in rural areas, there are EAS participants [that] continue to rely on [NOAA Weather Radio] as their primary input for EAS, in part because of spotty or unreliable Internet services,” it stated.
One solution: Develop a comprehensive plan to provide long-term solutions to upgrade or potentially overhaul today’s EAS, it said. “Such a holistic process must ensure changes are consistent with current legacy EAS technologies, yet able to advance with emerging technologies and warning capabilities.” It suggested the commission set up discussions via a working group like the Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council.
The service also called on the FCC to help reestablish the National Advisory Committee to better facilitate communication among the State Emergency Communication Committees, various EAS participant organizational representatives and federal agencies directly engaged with EAS.
“Today’s EAS is more than the traditional broadcast industry,” the NWS said in its comment filing.
The group also weighed in on an FCC EAS proposal to consider using crowdsourcing information in an emergency situation. In its NPRM, the commission mentioned the success of the Peta Jakarta initiative, a pilot program in Indonesia that monitored Twitter for posts mentioning the word “flood” during flooding season and used the information to help create a public crisis map to depict flooding in real time.
The possibility of using crowdsourcing in this way is promising, the NWS said, but cautioned that the industry is several years from establishing proper methodologies to ensure that such information is reliable and accurate.
The NWS expressed support for a number of other proposals, including amending EAS rules to authorize periodic tests using live event header codes, and allowing for live code testing to both raise public awareness and build proficiency among EAS participants.
It also the commission to oversee research and testing to assess potential solutions for alert validation. It said the exploration of potential solutions should include not only issues related to alert authentication, but also the long-standing issue of EAS duplicate message handling.
Any solution must not only validate that duplicate EAS messages are being properly filtered, but ensure that legacy EAS devices and legacy radio receivers — including those used as inputs to EAS devices and in consumer devices — are not adversely impacted by any agreed-upon solution, NWS said.
It also suggested the commission keep elements of its legacy EAS system in place as it revamps the EAS system. “The legacy network still has benefits, including the ability to function during power outages and events compromising Internet capacity or connectivity, which could disable a wholly CAP- based system when Internet access or other IP network access is impaired or disabled.”
The NWS’s comments were submitted in response to Proceeding 15-94. Reply comments can be submitted through July 8.