The third nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) last September “largely was a success,” but some stakeholders reported experiencing problems, according to a report released by the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau today. The report cited a number of metrics from the Sept. 27 test to highlight what the bureau said was its overall success.
It said that EAS stakeholders reported (1) “[a] higher overall rate of both successfully receiving and successfully retransmitting the test alert (95.8% receipt, as compared to 95.4% in 2016; 91.9% retransmission, as compared to 85.8% in 2016);” (2) “[i]ncreased success of LPFM stations in receiving and retransmitting the test alert (92.5% receipt, as compared to 89.0% in 2016; 83.8% retransmission, as compared to 74.2% in 2016);” (3) “[a] better understanding of their roles in the EAS as demonstrated by more accurately reporting their EAS designations (e.g., 237 reported state primary stations, as compared to 344 in 2016);” (4) “[h]igher rates of configuring their equipment to monitor IPAWS [Integrated Public Alert & Warning System ](96.7%, as compared to 94.0% in 2016) (although the percentage of EAS Participants that received the test through IPAWS actually dropped from 2016);” (5) “[h]igher rates of retransmitting the test alert with no complications (88.3%, as compared to 80.2% in 2016);” and (6) “[f]ewer complications in participating in the test related to equipment configuration issues (203, as compared to 773 in 2016).”
But the report acknowledged that the “test also highlights several areas in which the EAS can continue to improve. PSHSB will continue to work with FEMA, the SECCs [state emergency communications committees], individual EAS Participants, and other EAS stakeholders to address the issues raised in the test and ensure that the EAS can deliver timely and accurate national alerts and critical emergency information to the public. “
The report said “that technical issues” impacted the ability of some EAS participants to receive alerts effectively over IPAWS. As a result, they “were unable to deliver the CAP [common alerting protocol]-formatted digital audio, Spanish, and text files, which likely would have improved alert accessibility to non-English speakers and those with disabilities. Additionally, filings from representatives of people with disabilities show that interference with closed captioning and other EAS Participant practices impeded the full accessibility of the test.”
“Test participants reported complications with the test that included equipment configuration issues, equipment failures, failure to update equipment software, audio quality issues, source issues, and clock errors,” the report said. However, overall “88.3% of Form Three filers reported no complications in retransmission (up from 80.2% in 2016). 4% of filers reported experiencing audio quality issues, which is an increase from the 2.6% test participants that reported audio quality issues in 2016. 0.4% of filers reported equipment performance issues on receipt, which is a significant decline from the 2.1% that reported similar issues in 2016.”
Looking ahead, the bureau said that it “is currently working with EAS Participants and EAS equipment manufacturers to facilitate the adoption of triggered CAP polling for non-Presidential alerts and tests” to promote the use of IPAWS. “PSHSB will conduct outreach to EAS Participants and EAS equipment manufacturers and prepare options for the Commission regarding triggered CAP polling for Presidential alerts and tests.”
It also said it plans to (1) “[e]ncourage EAS Participants to adopt best practices for the upkeep of EAS equipment, particularly regarding the updating of equipment software”; (2) “[r]each out to stations referenced in filings with the Public Safety Support Center and other Commission records to ensure future coordination of alert crawl with closed captioning”; (3) “[r]evise ETRS [EAS test reporting system] Form Three to address accessibility of the test alert to people with disabilities and non-English speakers”; and (4) “[w]ork with the SECCs and EAS equipment manufacturers to reach out to EAS Participants to encourage them to update their EAS equipment and software to ensure successful participation in tests and compliance with the Commission’s rules.” —Paul Kirby, email@example.com