In its continuing quest to perfect, or at least improve, the nation’s emergency alert system (EAS), the FCC made several rule changes to its EAS procedures that will impact radio broadcasters. These rule changes are partially impelled by the somewhat problematic results of the first nationwide EAS test on November 9, 2011.
The results of the first nationwide EAS test revealed that many encoders/decoders did not receive or transmit the test because the “location code” sent was “Washington, DC”. Many EAS encoders/decoders did not regard a test with a Washington, DC location code as a nationwide message. The discovery of this one anomaly through the nationwide test is possibly worth the entire test effort. If unaddressed, this error could have greatly curtailed an actual nationwide message if required by a calamity.
To correct the location code anomaly, the FCC now adopts a new code of “000000” (six zeroes) as the national location code. An EAS message with six zeroes will be required, effective one year from the effective date of the new rules, to be received and correctly processed by all EAS receivers. Therefore, under the new EAS rules one of the chores for each radio broadcast station owner or manager will be to ensure that each station’s EAS receiver has the latest software to recognize the six zeroes location code.
The FCC is also requiring that EAS equipment be capable of a new event code which is called a “National Periodic Test” or “NPT”. Just like for the six zeroes national location code, software in EAS receivers will also need to be updated within one year from the effective date of the new rules for the NPT event code.
The FCC is creating a new “Electronic Test Reporting System”, with the new acronym “ETRS”, accessible through the internet, for further nationwide tests of EAS. The new test reporting system will correct many of the deficiencies of the 2011 test platform which, to many participants, appeared to have an ad hoc nature in which test information, once submitted, could not be corrected. The 2011 reporting system also did not acknowledge the receipt of submissions.
Radio stations need not do anything now with the new ETRS system. The FCC will require, however, within sixty days of the effective date of the new rules, or within sixty days of the launch of ETRS, whichever is later, that all EAS participants submit identifying information in ETRS. Rest assured that the FCC will issue a prominent public notice when such identifying information for ETRS is to be electronically submitted.
The FCC concludes that “EAS is a resilient public alert and warning tool that is essential to help save lives and protect property during times of national, state, regional, and local emergencies.” Whether or not you agree with the FCC on that, EAS is a reason in favor of FCC regulatory policies that foster the continued health of the radio industry.
During a time of an actual disaster, when all electrical service may be lost, most cell towers are without power or are overloaded with calls, and the public is on the brink of anarchy, history has shown that there will be at least one radio station that stays on the air providing emergency information. The ubiquitous nature of radio receivers including one in every automobile and hopefully, sooner rather than later, one in every smartphone, will continue to provide immediate and accessible emergency information in any cataclysmic situation.
Radio is taken for granted on a day-to-day basis. In times of emergency, radio with EAS is a lifeline. Therefore, radio broadcasters do themselves, their industry, and their communities well by being ready with EAS and other emergency preparedness, hoping that it will never be needed.