FCC’s Public Safety Bureau Recommends Actions to Improve EAS in Wake of Test

April 21, 2017–The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau released a report today that recommends the agency take several actions in the wake of last year’s nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS), including encouraging the use of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) as the primary source of alerts and examining how to improve and expand IPAWS alert content.

Today’s 21-page report was generally consistent with initial findings released for the September 2016 nationwide EAS test (TR Daily, Sept. 28, 2016), the second such nationwide test, in a public notice released in December (TR Daily, Jan. 3).

“The 2016 Nationwide EAS Test largely was a success, demonstrating that the national EAS has been significantly strengthened since the 2011 nationwide test,” today’s report concluded. “The test also highlights several areas in which the EAS can continue to be improved. PSHSB will continue to work with FEMA, EAS Participants, and other EAS stakeholders to address these problems and to ensure that the EAS can deliver timely and accurate national alerts and critical emergency information to the public.”

A bureau report released in 2013 about the 2011 test said that it “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 (TR Daily, April 15, 2013). That 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.

Today’s report said that more than 20,000 broadcasters, cable operators, and other EAS participants took part in last year’s test, or 95% of all EAS participants, which was a 25% improvement over the 2011 test.  “The results further show that the IPAWS version of the alert delivered superior digital sound and successfully delivered non-English alerts to those EAS Participants that wished to distribute them,” the report added.

“Test data also reveals, however, that a range of operational and technical issues still remain that affect nationwide EAS test performance across all states …” the report added.

“Almost half of test participants received the test over-the-air rather than from IPAWS, and these participants were unable to deliver the CAP [common alerting protocol]-formatted digital audio, Spanish, and text files as a result,” the bureau said. “Additionally, some EAS Participants failed to receive or retransmit alerts due to erroneous equipment configuration, equipment readiness and upkeep issues, and confusion regarding EAS rules and technical requirements.” In addition, “some EAS Participant groups had low participation rates, particularly Low Power broadcasters.”

Regarding the complications reported by EAS test participants, the report elaborated that they “included equipment configuration issues, equipment failures, failure to update equipment software, audio quality issues, source issues, clock errors, and, in some cases, noncompliance with the part 11 rules.”

“In light of the additional capabilities offered by IP-based alerts, the Commission should facilitate and encourage the use of IPAWS as the primary source of alerts nationwide, while preserving over-the-air alerting as a redundant, resilient, and necessary alternate alerting pathway,” according to the report.

The FCC also “should examine how to improve and expand the content included in IPAWS alerts to bridge the gap between today’s alerting systems and future next generation alerting,” the report added. “For example, the Commission, its Federal partners, and other EAS stakeholders should encourage and facilitate the expanded use of multiple languages, text files, and other mechanisms to create EAS alerts accessible to a greater portion of the public.” The report also recommends “specific operational actions to ensure that the EAS remains an authoritative, efficient, and trustworthy source of emergency information.”

It said the FCC should (1) “[t]ake measures to improve EAS Participants’ compliance with and understanding of the part 11 rules (e.g., by partnering with FEMA and the State Emergency Communications Committees (SECCs) to conduct targeted outreach to Low Power broadcasters and other EAS Participants with poor performance in the 2016 Nationwide EAS Test, and by updating the EAS Operating Handbook to provide additional guidance on the roles and responsibilities of EAS Participants);” and (2) “[t]ake measures to improve the quality of the EAS, and, where appropriate to strengthen the EAS, allow limited sharing of ETRS [EAS test reporting system] data with state partners.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily