FCC Releases Second R&O on EAS

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Washington - May 31, 2007 - The Federal Communications Commission adopted a Second Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking relating to the Emergency Alert System (EAS). According to a release from the FCC, the order promotes the development of fully digital next generation technologies and delivery systems that will better serve the American public.

The order now requires EAS participants to accept messages using the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), no later than 180 days after FEMA announces its adoption of standards in each case. The Society of Broadcast Engineers and the Partnership for Public Warning have both endorsed the implementation of CAP with EAS. CAP will allow the encoded data to carry additional information that has so far been relegated to only the audio portion of an EAS message. Many text-capable devices are in use today, and many TV stations only provide a visual display of the encoded message, which currently is often vague.

The FCC's further notice seeks comments on how to deliver EAS alerts, emergency and public safety information to non-English speakers and those who are hard of hearing. The notice also commits to the adoption of a final order within six months.

The order also requires terrestrial EAS participants to transmit state and locally targeted EAS alerts that are originated by governors or their designees. The EAS currently only requires participants to replay messages from the President. The further notice seeks comment on whether participants should be required to deliver EAS alerts originated by local, county, tribal, or other state governmental entities.

The order states the Commission's intention to ensure that the EAS network is prepared to operate as intended. The further notice seeks comment on several possible means for achieving that goal, including additional testing, station certification, and post hoc assessments of how well the system worked after an EAS warning has been triggered.

All five commissioners issued statements on the action. Commissioner Copps stated that he believes that CAP is a good step to have been taken, but more needs to be done.

Radio magazine observation: Adding a requirement for EAS participants to carry state-level messages appears to have some merit, and creates a statewide distribution intended to emulate the national system. Unfortunately, the nationwide and many statewide systems are not as fully developed as many government leaders believe them to be. The FCC appears to acknowledge this in its statements.

Taking this approach one step further, the FCC seeks comment on requiring participation at regional and local levels. To do so eliminates the voluntary nature of EAS as it currently stands. If this step is enacted, the systems will require significant attention to train the users and ensure that the system is not abused or misused.

EB Docket No. 04-296

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