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EAS Update

There has been lots of talk about EAS these last few weeks, though not much to do … yet. Yes, we had the Text to Speech fire drill, but that was a big to do about nothing for most of us.

The June 30, 2012 deadline to have certified CAP EAS equipment in place, connected to the Internet and polling the IPAWS aggregator, is still looming. If you are a radio broadcaster like me, you have probably been compliant with having your equipment in place and connected to the Internet for quite some time. Like me, you’re probably just playing the waiting game to hear what you need to enter into your equipment for it to contact the FEMA concentrator.

One of the larger EAS equipment manufacturers has published a statement that says, “Looking ahead to June 30, you need to be receiving CAP messages by then. We will have a release of the IPAWS enabled ENDEC software out in a week or two.”

I strongly suggest you check your vendor’s website to see if they have an update for your unit. This information is way overdue from IPAWS, FEMA or whomever, to us in the field. Let’s hope we have more than a week’s notice. Maybe we will get some clues from the IPAWS/NASBA/NAB webinar titled: “Getting Ready for CAP: Countdown to June 30”. This webinar will be held June 6, from 4 to 5 p.m. ET (1 to 2 p.m. PT).

I believe most of us are hoping some of the final instructions about connecting to a concentrator and testing, will be addressed.

Scott Mason, CPBE
SBE EAS Education Committee Chairman
SBE website EAS Page

Approaching the EAS Deadline

(Richard Rudman, SECC Vice Chair and Core Member of the Broadcast Warning Working Group, handed out this informative piece on the status of EAS at our May 16 meeting.)

Looking back on the past few weeks of the EAS story leading up to June 30 and beyond, we can safely say we know more than we did about the roadmap to the CAP-EAS implementation deadline destination, but we definitely need to know more as we ride along that road.

Prior to the NAB Convention we were all wondering if the FCC would rescind theirban on EAS Text-To-Speech (TTS). FEMA petitioned their federal partner, the FCC. A significant number of EAS stakeholders agreed and supported FEMA’s petition. And the FCC did the right thing. Voluntary use of TTS will be allowed.

At NAB, The Broadcast Warning Working Group (BWWG) arranged for a room courtesy of the NAB for a unique workshop targeted on a missing link in what the industry needed to know about changes to the EAS. A group of twenty-five EAS subject experts that included state and local EAS Chairs, EAS equipment manufacturers, broadcasters, and a representative of FEMA met for two hours to start work on a sample state EAS plan that incorporated all we knew at that time about Part 11 changes.

That sample plan is now in its Version 3 stage, posted on the EAS Forum website, and notification that it is available has been sent to state chairs, SBE, NAB, NASBA and other interested parties. This document is by necessity going to be a work in progress, principally because the FCC has not yet given us answers on what state and local plans should say about key EAS plan elements.

As of this writing, the FCC expects state plans to include not only a mapbook, but also “….should include a data table, in computer readable form, clearly showing monitoring assignments and the specific primary and backup path for emergency action notification (EAN) messages that are formatted in the EAS Protocol (specified in §11.31), from the PEP to each station in the plan.”

This seems to some to represent an unfunded twin cost and resources burden on the volunteer groups that sit on state and local EAS committees. More guidance is needed, and a request for this guidance has been made to the FCC by the BWWG.

As the week progressed, attention turned to wondering when the report on the EAS live code test would be announced, and Part 11 decisions we were told will be made based on that report will be made. We did know that many stations (one estimate says 40%) did not file their required national test reports, and that there was no way for anyone to easily find out if their report was on file. Tom Beers, the Chief of the Policy Division, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, noted that the FCC said from the start that they wouldn’t cite or fine stations that had trouble running the National EAS Test but added that not filing the reports was a different matter and could be considered grounds for citations and fines. He also told attendees at the NAB’s EAS session on Wednesday of NAB week that the majority of the nonreporting stations were “low power” stations.

If you are now wondering if your station might be one of the remaining non-reporting stations, Tom Beers announced that the FCC has come up with a way for you to confirm whether they have your report. Timothy May has been designated as the source of information on National Test reports. You can contact him at timothy.may@fcc.gov and ask him whether your report was received. You should keep a copy of his response with your EAS records. And if for some reason you have not responded yet, go to the National EAS Test website at http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/emergency-alert-system-nationwide-test and follow the instructions for “paper filings”.

Some EAS experts say that the success of EAS in the long run depends on forging strong links between the emergency management community, the originators of warnings, and the broadcast, cable and satellite entities subject to Part 11 whose job it is to get those warnings to the public.

FEMA has started the ball rolling with a procedure so state and local emergency managers can send warnings using the federal CAP aggregator:

Take a FEMA online course on IPAWS OPEN, IS-00247.

Take the online exam and pass it.

Apply to their state emergency management agency for approval to originate through the IPAWS OPEN aggregator

State emergency management forwards to FEMA approved applicants.

Origination privileges are granted.

Local and state emergency managers do not need to purchase special EAS equipment to originate. Several software vendors that specialize in selling to government make CAP warning origination tools. At this writing some, but not all have incorporated the IPAWS OPEN profile.

After NAB, the BWWG received word from FEMA that they would take further steps to help forge the vital public/private partnership needed. FEMA has new guidelines for state grant requests that could include funds for training, education projects.

So, while we now know more than we did, there are still many unanswered questions and missing puzzle pieces. We do know that the June 30 compliance deadline is a hard date, and all subject to Part 11 must be able to accept IPAWS OPEN messages either directly or indirectly by that date. For equipment-specific questions, the best advice is to watch the email list servers and stay current with what you equipment manufacturer has to say. The ride is not over yet!

Richard Rudman Vice Chair
California SECC
Core Member, the BWWG

FCC Retreats from Prohibition on EAS Alert Text-to-Speech Conversions

In late April, the FCC retracted its recent rules that would have prohibited live broadcast text-to-speech conversions. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as broadcast and technical groups, had objected to that part of the FCC’s Fifth Report and Order, saying that less useful information would be passed to the public by automated equipment. The Commission was concerned that automatic text-to-speech conversion could misinterpret emergency information. Text-to-speech conversion can be used by stations implementing CAP technology due for adoption by the June 30th deadline.