Category Archives: EAS and Amber Alerts

Senate Passes ‘Sandy Act’ Making Radio, TV ‘First Responders’

INSIDERADIO reports that on its first day back to work after Hurricane Irma struck Florida, the Senate quickly approved the bill (S. 102) designating radio and TV as “first responders” during natural disasters. The bill saw several years of holdups, but ultimately, back-to-back hurricanes seemed to have convinced Congress to pass the Securing Access to Networks in Disasters Act—otherwise known as the SANDy Act.

The House earlier approved the bill, only to see it become hung up in the Senate once again. But that changed with a quick vote on Monday when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) asked for unanimous consent to the legislation without any floor debate. The bill now heads to the White House where it only needs President Trump’s signature to become law.

While many local officials turn to broadcasters during emergencies, there have been situations where things have become more contentious and, by passing a federal law, supporters say the SANDy bill would simply put into place guarantees already adopted in several states.

The bill’s passage drew positive reviews at the Federal Communications Commission. “We know that weather-related emergencies and other disasters can occur anywhere at any time, and this legislation comes not a moment too soon,” commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement, adding, “Among other things, it promises to help speed restoration of essential communications in times of disaster.”

The legislation has the backing of the National Association of Broadcasters, which says recognizing radio and TV’s first-informer role will keep local radio and TV stations on-air during times of emergencies. According to a recent NAB-commissioned survey, 57% of Americans turn to local radio and TV stations for updates during an emergency. That’s four-times more than text messaging, email or cable news channels. The online survey, conducted in March by Morning Consult, included a sample of 2,251 adults aged 18 and older.

 

Are You Ready for the National EAS Test?

This originally appeared on the SBE-EAS Listserve.

To help broadcasters better prepare for the September 27, 2017 National Periodic Test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS), here is a list of issues that occurred during the 2016 national test that EAS participants might want to check:

1. Check that Text-to-Speech, if audio file is not available, is
enabled for CAP messages on EAS equipment.

a) Although optional in the FCC rules, TTS really should be mandatory.  If the NPT audio file can’t be retrieved, without TTS enabled, a “silent” message will be broadcast. TTS may sound ugly, but it is better than silence.
b). This varies by EAS manufacturer and sometimes in an obscure part of the configuration.

2. Listen to on-air EAS equipment audio output levels, don’t just rely on equipment logs. EAS audio must replace the program audio completely.

a) All program audio channels – right, left, 5.1 surround, secondary audio program, etc.
b) Don’t duck the program audio under the EAS audio – replace the program audio with EAS.
c) EAS audio loudness should be similar to normal program audio levels – not substantially louder or quieter.
d) Verify audio clock rate is configured consistently on EAS and
transmission chain equipment.

3. Check middleware programming and downstream connections (mostly television and cable systems). View the on-air video output of the EAS equipment, don’t just rely on equipment logs.

a) Middleware includes control systems, switching systems, RF systems and distribution elements.
b) The entire EAS message from first EAS header data burst until after the last EOM data burst is included.
c) Video crawl must display at least one complete crawl, even if the audio message is shorter or longer. The crawl should be readable and understandable – not extremely fast or slow.

4. Satellite program syndicators and satellite fed stations should understand which one is responsible for EAS as part of the program transmission chain.

a) NPR squawk and Premiere Networks supply national EAS
(PEP) on a distinct audio feed separate from normal programming. The EAS source channel may be connected to one of the EAS equipment audio input channels. The 2017 NPT will not be transmitted by NPR squawk or Premiere Networks; however, a real EAN could be.
b) Program syndicators should inform their affiliates if their satellite feed is pre-EAS (without EAS data bursts) or post-EAS (may include EAS data bursts).
c) Satellite affiliates with local EAS equipment should ask for a pre-EAS satellite source (without EAS data bursts)
d) Translator stations and hub-feed satellite stations without local EAS equipment must have a post-EAS (including EAS data bursts) source.

5. Not new, but still an issue. Check the system time on equipment, both EAS and automation systems.

FEMA: 2016 IPAWS EAS National Test Report
FCC: Report: September 28, 2016 Nationwide EAS Test

 

FCC Still Accepting EAS Form One

Radio World reports that the FCC has extended the deadline for broadcasters to file ETRS Form One due to Hurricane Harvey.

“We are aware that some EAS Participants are currently responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey,” the commission posted on its EAS Test Reporting System web page.

“Please know we will continue to accept Form One filings that are submitted in ETRS after the August 28 deadline. We ask all EAS Participants to file Form One as soon as possible. Thank you for your cooperation.”

As broadcasters should be aware by now,  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in collaboration with the FCC, will conduct its third nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System at 2:20 p.m., Eastern Time on September 27.  If weather or other conditions that require rescheduling, the backup is Oct. 4.

All EAS participants, which includes most broadcast stations, were supposed to complete the 2017 ETRS Form One by August 28 for each of its EAS decoders, encoders or combo boxes., and should do so as soon as possible.

On test day, you must then file “day of test” info on Form Two; and the Form Three needs to be completed by Nov. 13.

FCC Releases New EAS Guide

To help small businesses, nonprofits and small governmental jurisdictions comply with its latest EAS rules, the Federal Communications Commission has released the “Small Entity Compliance Guide Review of the Emergency Alert System.”

The guide is available here.

Last year, the commission adopted an order resolving a petition filed years before by the Independent Spanish Broadcasters Association, Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ Inc. and Minority Media and Telecommunications Council. It revised Part 11 EAS regulations to establish certain reporting requirements applicable to EAS participants, including radio stations, and to State Emergency Communications Committees.

By Nov. 6, 2017, EAS participants must now share:
A description of actions they have taken to EAS alert content available in languages other than English to its non-English speaking audience(s).

A description of any future actions planned by the participant, in consultation with state and local emergency authorities, to provide EAS alerts in languages other than English to its non-English speaking audience(s), along with an explanation for the decision to plan or not plan such actions.

Also, by May 4, 2018, SECCs must provide a summary of such information received from EAS participants as an amendment to included in their State EAS Plans.

It also said that within 60 days, EAS participants have to report any notable changes to information reported earlier, writing to their respective SECCs and chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. These will then be considered amendments to the State EAS Plans.

And the commission encouraged participants to provide SECCs with further information such as state-specific demographics on languages spoken and identification of resources used or necessary to originate current or proposed multilingual EAS alert content, as well as pilot projects or other initiatives that involve translation technologies or other approaches to providing non-English alerts and emergency information.

Michigan’s SECC will be surveying EAS participants in the state, including radio, television and cable participants gather this information.

Reminder: ETRS Form One Registration Due Monday

Lauren Lynch Flick

By Lauren Lynch Flick,
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP

The FCC and FEMA have established September 27, 2017 as the date for the next nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS). Like last year’s test, all EAS participants must file Form 1 a month before the test. The Form 1 has been modified, however, requiring information that was not requested previously. In addition, the FCC’s Emergency Test Reporting System (ETRS) has been revamped so that prior log in codes do not work and the system’s functionality is now unfamiliar to prior users. As a result, while the Form 1 is technically due next Monday, August 28, anyone who has not yet started the filing process should begin immediately and aim to finish the process this week.

Abandoning the ETRS log in system from the prior test, the ETRS now relies on log in information from an entirely separate FCC database, the Commission Registration System (CORES). Therefore, the first step in filing the Form 1 in the ETRS is the rather unintuitive step of establishing an FCC Username and Password in the CORES. While this step might be simple enough in and of itself, it is important to understand that the CORES system confers control of the licensee’s Federal Registration Number (FRN) on the first person to lay claim to it.

Many broadcasters only know the FRN as the number they have to frantically search for every September when paying their Annual Regulatory Fees. But the FRN and password are increasingly used as the log in for many of the FCC’s other filing systems such as the new Licensing Management System that TV stations use for most application filings, the Universal Licensing System which is the licensing system for stations’ wireless facilities like broadcast auxiliaries and business radios, the International Bureau’s filing system for stations’ earth station facilities, and even an alternate log in for the new Online Public Inspection File. Therefore, every station owner should establish a CORES Username and Password or have their lawyer do so on their behalf, and then claim the role of “Admin” of their FRN, even if someone else will be making their ETRS filings.

Once the licensee has claimed the Admin role for the station’s FRN, the person making the ETRS filings for the station must establish a CORES Username and Password for themselves and request that the FRN Admin associate the licensee’s FRN with their account. Only once all those steps are complete will the person making the ETRS filings be able to even draft the Form 1.

To reach the Form 1, filers should log into the ETRS using their own CORES Username and Password. A message may appear at the top of the page upon logging in saying that no FRNs are associated with the account. If you think you have in fact associated the FRN with the account, proceed with drafting the Form 1, as the FRN may appear in the pull down menu despite that message.

Information about the station’s transmitter location, EAS equipment, and stations monitored will prefill from the Form 1 filed for the last nationwide test. This year, stations must also provide the location of their EAS receivers. The FCC is requesting this information to be able to map where signals are received and sent so that it can better understand any communications breakdowns. Also new this year, stations will see an instruction to file a separate Form 1 for each encoder, decoder or combination unit. It is likely that most broadcasters have a combination unit and therefore only need to file one Form 1. However, there may be situations where multiple filings are needed, for example where a cluster of co-owned radio stations share a studio but have to employ separate encoders and decoders to deal with stations in the group having different monitoring assignments.

So if you were procrastinating before filing the Form 1, or tried and were stymied by the FCC’s updated filing system, it’s time to get moving. Monday’s deadline is coming fast.

False EAS Test Startles Island of Guam

According to a report in InsideRadio residents of the the U.S. territory of Guam were startled by an activation of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) shortly after 12 a.m. on August 15. The alert originated from Inter-Island Communications religious teaching KTWG (801), which assured the public afterward that “the unauthorized test was not connected to any emergency, threat or warning.”

The alert occurred at 12:25 a.m. and included the message: “A broadcast station or cable system has issued a civil danger warning for the following counties/areas: Guam, Guam; at 12:25 a.m. on August 15, 2017 effective until 12:40 a.m.”

Officials with Guam Homeland Security and Civil Defense (GHS/OCD), along with the Mariana Regional Fusion Control (MFRC), said there was no change in the threat levels for the island territory and the test was unscheduled and an error. They added that they are working with federal and military partners to continue to monitor the recent events surrounding North Korea and threats aimed at the island territory.

Guam and the U.S. air and naval bases stationed there have been under alert since North Korea threatened to fire missiles into the sea near the island. However, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has since stood down and backed off the plan, according to state media.

The station that aired the erroneous alert added that it is working with the GHS/OCD “to ensure the human error will not occur again.”

NWS to Test Snow Squall Warnings This Winter

State Emergency Communications Committee (SECC) Chairman Gary Blievernicht (WKAR-TV/East Lansing) has announced that the National Weather Service (NWS) will be testing/evaluating Snow Squall Warnings this coming winter.   Stations are encouraged to consider airing the SVS-coded tests this winter as a part of a project coming from the NWS Detroit office.

The test coverage area includes:

  • Midland Bay Huron
  • Saginaw Tuscola Sanilac
  • Shiawassee Genessee Lapeer St. Clair
  • Livingston Oakland Macomb
  • Washtenaw Wayne
  • Lenawee Monroe

The Snow Squall Warning will be issued based on….

  1. Visibility less than 1/2 mile.
  2. Sub-freezing ambient road temperatures (or plunging temperatures that would produce a flash freeze).
  3. Wind gusts 20 mph or more.
  4. Forecaster judgement of impact, i.e. clear evidence that a snow squall could lead to dangerous conditions and possible multi-car accident (pileup) when one of the above criterion isn’t quite met.

Additional details:

  • The test will likely start somewhere between December 1 and 8.
  • The text product will be ARBSQWDTX with a WMO ID of WWUS51 KDTX.
  • The VTEC (and thus, eventually the WEA code) will be SQ.W.
  • The EAS code that will be used is SVS. This will come from the NOAA Weather Radio SAME.
  • The NWS has never used an EAS code SVS.
  • The NWS will not use the SVS EAS code for any follow up statements for TO.W or SV.W (tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings).
  • The text will have “Bulletin – EAS Activation Requested.”

As this is mostly a life threatening travel issue, stations in the Southeast, East Central and Lenawee/Washtenaw local EAS groups pass this information along from NWS to LPs to all radio stations.

EAS Equipment Checklist

This originally appeared on the SBE-EAS Listserve.

To help broadcasters better prepare for the 2017 National Periodic Test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS), here is a list of issues that occurred during the 2016 national test that EAS participants might want to check:

1. Check that Text-to-Speech, if audio file is not available, is
enabled for CAP messages on EAS equipment.

a) Although optional in the FCC rules, TTS really should be mandatory.  If the NPT audio file can’t be retrieved, without TTS enabled, a “silent” message will be broadcast. TTS may sound ugly, but it is better than silence.
b). This varies by EAS manufacturer and sometimes in an obscure part of the configuration.

2. Listen to on-air EAS equipment audio output levels, don’t just rely on equipment logs. EAS audio must replace the program audio completely.

a) All program audio channels – right, left, 5.1 surround, secondary audio program, etc.
b) Don’t duck the program audio under the EAS audio – replace the program audio with EAS.
c) EAS audio loudness should be similar to normal program audio levels – not substantially louder or quieter.
d) Verify audio clock rate is configured consistently on EAS and
transmission chain equipment.

3. Check middleware programming and downstream connections (mostly television and cable systems). View the on-air video output of the EAS equipment, don’t just rely on equipment logs.

a) Middleware includes control systems, switching systems, RF systems and distribution elements.
b) The entire EAS message from first EAS header data burst until after the last EOM data burst is included.
c) Video crawl must display at least one complete crawl, even if the audio message is shorter or longer. The crawl should be readable and understandable – not extremely fast or slow.

4. Satellite program syndicators and satellite fed stations should understand which one is responsible for EAS as part of the program transmission chain.

a) NPR squawk and Premiere Networks supply national EAS
(PEP) on a distinct audio feed separate from normal programming. The EAS source channel may be connected to one of the EAS equipment audio input channels. The 2017 NPT will not be transmitted by NPR squawk or Premiere Networks; however, a real EAN could be.
b) Program syndicators should inform their affiliates if their satellite feed is pre-EAS (without EAS data bursts) or post-EAS (may include EAS data bursts).
c) Satellite affiliates with local EAS equipment should ask for a pre-EAS satellite source (without EAS data bursts)
d) Translator stations and hub-feed satellite stations without local EAS equipment must have a post-EAS (including EAS data bursts) source.

5. Not new, but still an issue. Check the system time on equipment, both EAS and automation systems.

FEMA: 2016 IPAWS EAS National Test Report
FCC: Report: September 28, 2016 Nationwide EAS Test

 

FCC Sets August 28 Deadline for Updates to ERTS Reporting System

David Oxenford - ColorBy: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP
www.broadcastlawblog.com

We wrote earlier about the upcoming EAS Nationwide Test and the need for broadcasters to make sure that their EAS equipment is operating in compliance with all FCC rules. The FCC itself has now released its own Public Notice detailing the many things that broadcasters need to check at their facilities before the upcoming test, including the need to update their information in the ERTS EAS reporting system by August 28. The FCC also issued a new EAS Handbook detailing broadcaster’s EAS obligations.

The Public Notice notes that the EAS test will focus on the IPAWS internet-based system through which the common alerting protocol (“CAPS”) alert is sent – a system that was mandated a few years ago as an additional way for alerts to be conveyed to stations to supplement the traditional “daisy-chain” of alerts being passed from one broadcast station to another (see our articles here, here and here). The internet-based system will allow both English and Spanish versions of the Nationwide alert to be transmitted and will also provide text of the message that can be converted to a video crawl on TV screens.

The Public Notice provides a list of potential EAS issues that each station should review to make sure that their EAS systems are operating in compliance with the rules. The Notice also sets August 28, 2017 as the deadline for all stations to complete their “2017 ERTS Form One” setting out information about each station’s EAS decoders, encoders or combined units. ERTS is the system that reports on the results of the EAS tests. Test results will need to be filed on Form Two in ERTS on September 27 before midnight, with more detailed information about the results of the test to be submitted in a Form Three by November 13, 2017. The FCC warns stations to start looking at these forms now – particularly the one due on August 28 – to make sure that your information is updated and accurate and you are ready for the September test. As we suggested in our earlier post, this public notice makes clear that now is the time for all stations to review their EAS equipment, and the ERTS Forms, to get ready for the Nationwide Test.

David Oxenford is MAB’s Washington Legal Counsel and provides members with answers to their legal questions with the MAB Legal Hotline.  Access information here. (Members only access).

There are no additional costs for the call; the advice is free as part of your membership.

FCC Releases New EAS Handbook

The FCC has released a revised EAS Operating Handbook.

A copy of the Handbook must be located at normal duty positions or EAS equipment locations when an operator is required to be on duty and be immediately available to staff responsible for administering EAS tests.

The Handbook supersedes all other EAS Handbooks and must be in place in time for the 2017 nationwide EAS test (scheduled for September 27, 2017).

The Handbook’s format allows each EAS Participant to enter data specific to their own configuration, tailoring the operational steps outlined in the manual for local relevance.

The Handbook may be downloaded here.

A writable PDF version of the Handbook can be found on the Bureau’s website at https://www.fcc.gov/general/eas-test-reporting-system.