The changes to EAS
Broadcasters will benefit from the FCC's changes to the Emergency Alert System (EAS). Among the changes: Stations now have more time to rebroadcast the required monthly test, new event codes for emergencies and the ability to save lives as well as increase ratings.
More time to rebroadcast
The FCC adopted a Report and Order (FCC-02-64) on Feb. 22, 2002, that increased the time period for rebroadcast of the required monthly test from 15 minutes to 60 minutes. The increase allows stations to more easily fit the 30-second test into their normal programming. Download the entire Report and Order from the FCC's Electronic Document Management System (EDOCS).
Unlike the required weekly test that each station airs, the required monthly test is initially broadcast by the state or local primary station for the EAS operational area. All broadcasters and cable outlets must log receipt of the required monthly test, then rebroadcast the test within 60 minutes.
There are a few important details. A station's air staff cannot read the required monthly test script; it must be rebroadcast as carried by the local primary station. Because stations are required to monitor at least two EAS sources, a station may receive another required monthly test when the alternate LP-2 station rebroadcasts the LP-1's test. This test should be logged.
The FCC adopted 20 new event codes. Until now, all state and local emergencies were lumped together under one event code called Civil Emergency Message. Air staff often had to listen to the entire contents of each CEM message before deciding whether or not to rebroadcast it.
Now representatives from local broadcasters and cable systems can meet with their local and state offices of emergency management and the National Weather Service to jointly select the event codes that may affect their area. For example, the Houston Local Emergency Communications Committee (LECC) recently voted to replace the generic CEM event code with six new event codes that take effect in March 2003.
The major manufacturers of EAS equipment are offering hardware or software upgrades for the new event codes. All EAS equipment manufactured after Aug. 1, 2003, must be able to selectively receive, display, transmit and log the event codes. Stations that replace their EAS equipment after Feb. 1, 2004, must install EAS equipment with these capabilities.
Child abduction emergency
The Child Abduction Emergency event code was adopted to meet the tremendous growth in state and local AMBER (America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Plans. The Association of Radio Managers in Dallas started the nation's first AMBER Plan in 1996 after the abduction and murder of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman.
Houston AMBER Plan
In 2001, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children started a campaign to expand AMBER programs nationwide. Today, there are 66 local, regional and statewide AMBER Plans across the nation. Twenty-four of those programs are operated on a statewide level. Most use a combination of EAS, website and e-mail distribution, highway message signs and broadcast fax to disseminate Amber Alerts to the media and general public.
Boost your ratings
Stations that agree to voluntarily broadcast state and local EAS messages may not only save their listeners' lives, but also could increase their ratings, listener loyalty and public service image.
One advantage of transmitting the EAS codes is that the codes will activate tone-alert EAS receivers available to consumers. For example, ASI Industries manufactures the tone-alert Emergency Alert Sentinel receiver that can be tuned to any AM or FM radio station, whether you are the local primary station or not. Anytime the station activates EAS, the receiver will tone-alert and then play the message.
Another image booster idea is a sales promotion where local advertisers donate EAS receivers to local schools, day care centers, hospitals, nursing homes, government agencies and other at-risk facilities.
Wolf is chairman of the Houston, Texas-area LECC.
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