FCC Order Requires Electronic Filing of State EAS Plans

The FCC released a report and order today mandating the electronic filing of state Emergency Alert System (EAS) plans, a step that the agency says will reduce burdens on state officials while enabling federal and other stakeholders to better access and use the data. In the order in PS docket 15-94, the FCC established the Alert Reporting System (ARS). It said the ARS “will create a comprehensive online filing system for EAS by combining the existing EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS) with a new, streamlined electronic system for the filing of State EAS Plans. ARS will replace paper-based filing requirements, minimize the burdens on State Emergency Communications Committees (SECCs), and allow the FCC, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other authorized entities to better access and use up-to-date information about the EAS, thus increasing its value as a tool to protect life and property for all Americans.”

The adequacy of state EAS plans has been discussed in the wake of a false ballistic missile alert in Hawaii in January (TR Daily, Jan. 16).

For example, at a Senate field hearing in Hawaii last week, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the FCC should make sure that state EAS plans that are filed with the Commission are up to date (TR Daily, April 5). “The Hawaii plan was over a decade old,” she said.

The electronic filing of state EAS plans “will provide a baseline level of uniformity across State EAS Plans, in terms of both format and terminology, while affording sufficient flexibility to accommodate filers’ unique needs,” the FCC said in the order released today. “We believe the ARS will ensure more efficient and effective delivery of Presidential as well as state, local and weather-related alerts as it will provide the Commission, FEMA, and other authorized entities with the means to more easily review and identify gaps in the EAS architectures, detect problems, and take measures to address these shortcomings.”

The FCC said that “there remain weaknesses in conveying this critical information to the public via the EAS. Recent nationwide testing of the EAS has shown ‘shortfalls in some state EAS plans,’ including confusion and difficulties in understanding and implementing monitoring assignments. The current paper-based State EAS Plan filing system, EAS designations, and State EAS Plan contents collectively make it difficult for the Commission and other EAS stakeholders to detect problems or map the propagation of EAS alerts. This inability to detect and resolve problems, in turn, makes it more likely that some members of the public may not receive emergency alerts. Our new requirements address this difficulty by creating a uniform online filing system that will utilize specific State EAS Plan contents and uniform EAS designations.”

In a statement on the order, Ms. Rosenworcel said, “The Emergency Alert System helps us get the information we need during local, state, and national emergencies. In this Order, the system gets some needed care and attention. To this end, we establish an online filing system for State Emergency Alert Plans and broadly clarify what categories of information those plans should contain. This is a step forward and will improve the mechanics of filing state plans at this agency. But more work remains. The FCC can do more by acting as a convening force to report and incentivize best practices for emergency alerting. In addition, we need to act with dispatch on the other aspects of this docket that this Order does not address, including false alert reporting. Especially in light of the false emergency alert earlier this year in Hawaii, this work should be our priority.”- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily