The author is director of engineering services for the Alabama Broadcasters Association and chair of the Alabama State Emergency Communications Committee.
Broadcast engineers have a lot to look after, even before COVID-19. A successful station operation depends almost entirely on proper technical operation. From the studio to the antenna, there is a lot of “stuff” that must be installed and maintained.
One important item in the chain is your Emergency Alert System equipment. As with any type of technical system, it is important to have some type of monitoring system to ensure that every section is working properly. This also includes working with all the end users to clear up any problems.
While there may be various ways for your State Emergency Communications Committee (see sidebar at bottom) to monitor an entire system, in Alabama we chose to take advantage of the ability built into most EAS units to export to an FTP server in real time.
It is a simple system to create and maintain:
- Set up an FTP server; most state broadcast associations have one running;
- Create a folder in the root directory of the server to receive the data;
- Have stations load the log-in information in their units.
Fig. 1 shows information loaded into the EAS unit. Every time the station unit has any EAS activity, it will transmit a report to the server.
We found an easy way to create a database to check the “health of the entire system.” The data from the FTP server is copied into Microsoft Word; using the Find tab, the data can be separated by type of alert/test.
Currently we fill out the database manually; we haven’t found any software yet that will do this. However, it only takes a few minutes each morning over your first cup of coffee.
Fig. 2 shows a partial database.
If you see that a station has been missing a certain test for several weeks, contact its engineer to check on the problem. The data received also include an audio file of tests, so it is easy to listen to the quality.
The FCC recently issued a report on last year’s national test, reporting that one of the main problems was quality of the audio. If a station is having a problem receiving quality audio from a source, the committee can work with the station engineer to correct the problem and, if need be, assign a different source.
The beauty of this system is that there is no cost to set it up, either to the station or or the state broadcast association, plus the speed of the response.
We recently had an agency issue an Amber Alert. After notification of the alert, we looked at the log and discovered that the text of the alert was missing. After a simple phone call to the origination agency, the alert was retransmitted, this time with the text.
If a station has EAS equipment that cannot export data to an FTP server, simply have them add a dedicated email in the unit. That way the committee can still get the report from that station.
Note that this monitor service is only for the state committee use in maintaining the system. It does not replace the legal requirement that the station chief operator review the station log on a weekly basis. That log is required to be retained for a period of two years.
EAS Coordination Is Essential
Not only is EAS participation required by the FCC, but it is a major community service for your listeners and viewers. At the station level, approved equipment must be installed and configured correctly. The commission requires that proper operation of the EAS system is checked once a week and logged in the station log.
As most readers know, a committee in each state, often named the State Emergency Communications Committee or SECC, is tasked with setting up a secure and reliable origination/distribution system to ensure your equipment receives the correct alerts and test. That leads to the creation of an EAS state plan, which all broadcasters and cable systems should follow.
The committee plans and oversees the entire EAS origination/distribution, plus closely works with FEMA and other state and national agencies.It’s important to have representatives of all stakeholders participate. This includes your state emergency management agency, the National Weather Service, state broadcast association, state cable association and of course engineers from radio and television.
The author is a recipient of the Radio World Excellence in Engineering Award. Comment on this or any article. Email [email protected].