January 3, 2017–The second nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) in September (TRDaily, Sept. 28, 2016) was “successful,” but several actions can be taken to further improve the system, according to the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.The bureau released a three-page public notice Dec. 28 announcing its initial findings from the 2016 nationwide EAS test.
The first nationwide test occurred in 2011. A report released in 2013 by the bureau said that the earlier test “demonstrated that the national EAS distribution architecture is basically sound,” but it also “uncovered several problems that impeded the ability of some EAS Participants to receive and/or retransmit” alerts (TRDaily, April 15, 2013). The 2013 report recommended a number of steps that should be taken to strengthen the EAS and said that another nationwide test should be conducted after that.
Following the 2016 test, EAS participants submitted initial results followed by a more detailed analysis weeks later. “The Nationwide EAS Test was successful,” the Public Safety Bureau said in the public notice. “Initial test data indicates that the vast majority of EAS Participants successfully received and retransmitted the National Periodic Test (NPT) code that was used for the test. The improvements made to the EAS using the lessons learned from the 2011 nationwide EAS test and the implementation of ETRS [EAS test reporting system] appear to have significantly improved test performance over what was observed during the 2011 test …”
For example, more than 21,000 radio stations, TV stations, cable systems, satellite systems, and others participated in the national test, a 26% increase over the 2011 test, the bureau said. It also said that 94% of participants reported successfully receiving the test alert, up 12% from the 2011 test. In addition, 85% of participants said they successfully retransmitted the alert and 69% said they encountered no complications in receiving or retransmitting the alert. However, the public notice added, “From the data submitted by EAS Participants to ETRS, Bureau staff has identified several areas where the Commission could take steps to potentially strengthen the EAS.”
“Some EAS Participants experienced poor quality audio and were not able to deliver the Spanish language alert because they received the test from an over-the-air broadcast source before their EAS equipment performed its regular check of the IPAWS Internet feed (which typically occurs every 30 seconds),” it said. “Requiring EAS Participants [to] check the Internet-based IPAWS feed upon receiving a broadcast alert and transmit the corresponding CAP alert, if available, would ensure that the most timely and content-rich version of the alert is broadcast. This would be particularly important for time sensitive alerts where seconds matter like earthquake early warnings.”
“Some people with disabilities reported difficulty receiving or understanding alert text or audio,” the bureau also observed. “EAS tests can be made more accessible by applying to EAS tests the accessibility rules that already apply to live EAS alerts.”
“The preparations for the test highlighted shortfalls in some state EAS plans,” according to the public notice. “Some plans were difficult for EAS Participants to locate, while others presented monitoring obligations and other information in a manner that EAS Participants found difficult to implement. The Commission can take steps to further facilitate the centralization and standardization of plan information.”
The bureau also said that “[s]ome EAS Participants did not receive the alert because they did not properly configure or maintain their equipment. The Bureau, in coordination with State Emergency Communications Committees, state broadcast associations and other stakeholders, will use the test results to provide guidance to those EAS Participants that experienced technical difficulties.”
The public notice also said that last year’s “test was conducted in an environment that posed a low threat for cyberattacks. A system whereby EAS Participants would integrate basic cyber security guidelines into the EAS equipment readiness rules so that they could self-assess and self-correct vulnerabilities in their facilities would harden the EAS against the range of cybersecurity threats that is generally present for actual alerts and tests.” The public notice continued, “Together with FEMA, the Bureau will continue to analyze the results of the 2016 nationwide EAS test and release more detailed findings and recommendations when available.” – Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org