At the first of what could be several congressional hearings into the Emergency Alert System, lawmakers in Washington on January 25 received much attention to how good a job broadcasters do during a crisis. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) said this month’s scare in Hawaii had one positive impact in showing that the EAS worked as it was designed. National Association of Broadcasters chief technology officer Sam Matheny, speaking at the hearing agreed. “The broadcast infrastructure worked and the message did get out—unfortunately in this case it was a mistaken message,” he said.
Praise for radio and TV stations also went beyond the technology to the industry’s public service commitment. “When we had our 1,000-year flood two years ago I am convinced we would have lost more lives than we did than had we not had the rapid response of radio—and also thank you for broadcasters staying on the story,” Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said. “It wasn’t a one-day story for us and it wasn’t treated as such by the broadcasters.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said broadcast radio and TV have “long been a reliable way” to get EAS messages to the public, noting her state too has seen stations step-up during flood emergencies. “Broadcasters are often able to continue operating during and after severe weather,” Klobuchar acknowledged.
As special as that may seem, Matheny reminded Senators that’s just what radio and TV stations do every day. “One of the key elements of broadcasters is that they are local and part of the community and they are committed to helping prepare for weather and recovery,” he said.
“Broadcasters are the backbone of the Emergency Alert System,” Matheny said, noting radio and TV stations mostly remain on the air when other forms of communications go down. That makes broadcasters part of whatever the needed fixes to EAS may be “from beginning to end,” Matheny added.