Parties have generally expressed support for an FCC proposal to amend its Emergency Alert System (EAS) rules to add the event code “BLU” for Blue Alerts, but they disagree on some details, including the timeframe for deploying the new code and whether it should be voluntary. The new alert would enable the dissemination of information when law enforcement officers have been killed or seriously injured, are in imminent danger, or are missing.
In comments filed in PS docket 15-94 in response to a notice of proposed rulemaking adopted in June (TR Daily, June 22), the National Association of Broadcasters said it “supports the Commission’s commitment to public safety, and in particular, its effort to facilitate the apprehension of suspects who pose an imminent threat to law enforcement officers by notifying the public of an actionable threat to law enforcement officers. NAB recommends certain measures designed to enhance the effectiveness of Blue Alerts. Specifically, we submit that the highly successful AMBER Alert program provides a useful model for implementation of Blue Alerts. For example, like the AMBER program, a uniform approach to Blue Alerts will facilitate nationwide implementation, uniform message formulation and the consistent dissemination of Blue Alerts by EAS Participants. Also similar to AMBER Alerts, the Commission should require a comprehensive training and technical assistance program for message originators to ensure efficient message origination. Finally, we agree with the Commission’s proposed implementation period of six months, so long as a reasonable waiver process is available to broadcasters that face unexpected delays in introducing the new code.”
NAB proposed “that, as in the AMBER Alert program, Blue Alert stakeholders should agree that law enforcement officials will issue alerts only when established criteria have been met. Law enforcement officials should also help EAS Participants provide accurate information, and provide a method for handling tips and inquiries once the alert has been activated. Also, like AMBER Alerts, news organizations may use information in a Blue Alert for news purposes, and supplement that information with legitimate reporting to better inform the public. These and other criteria will help to ensure that Blue Alerts are accurate, timely and issued in an efficient manner.”
NCTA said its “member companies support the Commission’s proposal, unveiled at a recent DOJ event, to add Blue Alerts to EAS to assist in the protection and safety of police and other law enforcement officers in dire emergency situations in the line of duty. And as with other non-Presidential emergency alerts, including weather alerts and other state and local alerts, the transmission of Blue Alerts by EAS participants will be voluntary. This is consistent with the voluntary nature of the Blue Alert program and appropriate for incorporating the new code into the EAS rules.”
But NCTA noted that the NPRM “proposes to have EAS equipment manufacturers integrate the Blue Alert event code into equipment yet to be manufactured or sold, and to make necessary software upgrades available to EAS Participants within six months from the effective date of the rules. We urge the Commission to work with EAS equipment manufacturers to determine the adequacy of this timeframe. Under the proposed rules, EAS Participants may upgrade their equipment through either new equipment programmed with the new code or by installing the software upgrade from the manufacturer into existing equipment on a voluntary basis until their equipment is replaced. This is a sensible and effective approach for adopting a new code by EAS Participants based on past experience with other new EAS event codes.”
The trade group also stressed the importance of planned “activation criteria” for Blue Alerts “to guard against the potential overuse of Blue Alerts for non-emergency situations by state and local officials, to promote consistency in their use and content, and to ensure the public recognizes their urgency.” It also noted that the FCC “estimates that ‘EAS Participants will spend a maximum of one hour downloading and installing a Blue Alert event code until such time as they replace their equipment.’ But this seriously underestimates the time it takes to deploy a new EAS code. Cable operators exercise great care in testing new software or deploying new equipment on a wide-scale basis in their systems. This process is critical to ensuring the quality and integrity of emergency notifications distributed to their customers. Full implementation of Blue Alerts will require operators to not only download and install software in each of their EAS encoder/decoders but they must also test the new software on a variety of downstream devices, operating systems, and signaling formats and protocols in their video distribution systems end-to-end. This process is measured in weeks, or potentially longer in the event of unforeseen testing issues, not an hour as the Notice suggests. Therefore, we caution the Commission to be aware of this necessary process to ensure the efficacy and successful deployment of Blue Alerts.”
“The Commission’s proposal to allow EAS Participants to implement the new event codes on a voluntary basis until they replace existing EAS equipment appropriately balances the public’s interest in the safety and well-being of law enforcement officials against the costs of implementing new EAS codes,” said the American Cable Association. “The approach outlined in the NPRM is not only consistent with the Commission’s previous approach to adding new event codes, it will encourage EAS Participants to continue working with state and local governments and law enforcement officials to decide how best to disseminate emergency information. To further encourage voluntary use of Blue Alerts, the Commission should consider Monroe Electronics’ proposal to use an existing event code, such as the ‘Law Enforcement Warning’ (‘LEW’) code, rather than creating and implementing a brand new code.”
The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council said it “supports the Commission’s proposal to add a dedicated Blue Alert code to the Emergency Alert System, as has been requested by the [Department of Justice] COPS office [Office of Community Oriented Policing Services]. NPSTC also supports the issuance of Blue Alerts over the Wireless Emergency Alerts system as the pubic increasingly uses wireless devices to monitor and access information. Where technically possible, and to be of the greatest value, such alerts should provide law enforcement the option to include an image of a suspect under pursuit, the license plate of a vehicle of interest, or when deemed appropriate, the image of an officer who is in danger.”
NPSTC continued, “All Blue Alerts, whether transmitted via the EAS or the WEA, should be initiated voluntarily by the lead public safety agency involved in an incident, as provided for in the COPS Office guidance. Law enforcement agencies involved in an incident have the best perspective on whether issuance of a Blue Alert to the public would be beneficial or may have unintentional negative consequences for an officer in danger or could jeopardize an investigation. Finally, NPSTC recommends the Commission continue to coordinate with the COPS Office as it finalizes decisions in this proceeding. The COPS Office, and its Advisory Group that includes several NPSTC member organizations, should have a keen sense of awareness on how best to support the Blue Alerts initiative.”
The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International said it “supports the Commission’s proposal to create a dedicated Emergency Alert System (EAS) event code for Blue Alerts. Such a code would improve the effectiveness of the National Blue Alert Network and facilitate the integration of Blue Alert plans nationwide. APCO agrees with the proposal that such alerts would be confined to those areas most likely to facilitate capture of the suspect. As APCO has previously noted, effective geo-targeting is important to preserve the public’s trust in emergency alerts and is helpful for PSAPs to lessen inquiries from members of the public who are located outside of the impacted area yet receive the alert. APCO also supports the Commission’s exploration of the interplay between EAS and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and continues to urge the Commission to adopt an approach that aims to harmonize its respective policies on EAS and WEA while accounting for differences in the platforms.”
The city of New York said that Blue Alerts should be as geographically targeted as possible to avoid “warning fatigue” among residents, and it said a six-month implementation timeframe seems reasonable. However, it said a longer timeframe would likely be necessary for the wireless industry to accommodate Blue Alerts through wireless emergency alerts. But the city said it disagrees with the FCC’s “proposal to make implementation of the new EAS codes voluntary.” It said EAS participants should be given 12 months — despite also endorsing six months — to upgrade software to accommodate Blue Alerts.
The Boulder, Colo., Regional Emergency Telephone Service Authority said it supports Blue Alerts, but it said they should not be limited to law enforcement personnel. “BRETSA submits that while law enforcement officers are at greatest risk of violence, injury and death, particularly at the present time[,] other uniformed First Responders such as firefighters and paramedics are also subject to violence, injury and death both from assaults and the conditions under which they may operate. Blue Alerts should apply to all uniformed First Responders, and BRETSA respectfully submits that such application would not contravene the Blue Alerts Act,” it said.
“A dedicated EAS event code for Blue Alerts would streamline Blue Alert plans across the nation and will help to integrate existing plans into a coordinated national framework,” said DoJ’s COPS unit. “Such a code would also serve as the central and organizing element for Blue Alert plans coast-to-coast and greatly facilitate the work of the National Blue Alert Network.” —Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org