Category Archives: EAS and Amber Alerts

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.

FEMA Sets Date for Next National EAS Test

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has scheduled the 2017 National EAS Test (NPT) for Wednesday, September 27 at 2:30 p.m. Eastern.

In the event the test needs to be postponed due to a significant event, weather or otherwise, a backup date of Wednesday, October 4, has been reserved.

The test will be conducted in the same way it was in 2016, with both English and Spanish language text and audio. Total duration is expected to be about one minute.

The Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission has already released instructions as to how Emergency Alert System participants must register for access to the 2017 EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS).

As a result of feedback regarding last year’s use of the ETRS, the FCC has mandated that filers using the ETRS must use a single account. The Public Safety Bureau also said to expect a further notice soon about the opening of the 2017 ETRS and the date by which EAS participants must file their data.

In the 2016 test, FEMA reported that approximately 88 percent of EAS participants across the country were able to receive and relay the test message.  A few test participants reported complications ranging from equipment configuration issues, equipment failures, failure to update equipment software, audio quality issues, source issues, clock errors and, in some cases, noncompliance with Part 11 rules.

FEMA Appoints New IPAWS Subcommittee

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently announced the names of 31 individuals who will serve on a new IPAWS subcommittee to offer guidance on best standards and operating procedures for the nation’s emergency alert system.

Now part of the FEMA’s National Advisory Council (NAC), the first IPAWS subcommittee meeting will be held August 8 and 9 in Washington, D.C. Members will meet again up to four times per year.

The subcommittee’s appointed responsibilities include providing recommendations for new alerting protocols and operating procedures for the public alert and warning system and submitting a recommendation report on the overall system to the NAC. Any subcommittee report will be shared with other government agencies, including the House and Senate committees on homeland security.

Click here to learn more about the new IPAWS subcommittee and its members. 

 

FCC Releases Updated ETRS Registration Information

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has not decided whether, or when, to have another national EAS test this year, the FCC’s EAS rules provide for yearly updates to the Form One information in the Electronic Test Reporting System (ETRS). On June 26, the FCC released a Public Notice containing instructions on how to register for ETRS using the Commission Registration System (CORES). Among the improvements made to the ETRS in 2017 is that filers will now use a single account to file on behalf of multiple FCC Registration Numbers (FRNs).

The Commission will release a Public Notice in July announcing the
availability of ETRS Form One, and the date by which EAS
participants will be required to update their ETRS Form One
information. Instructions for updating Form One are linked below. We suggest you hold on to these pending release of the July Public Notice.

http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2017/db0626/DA-17-620A1.pdf

 

SiriusXM Seeks EAS Waiver

On June 5, SiriusXM Radio filed a petition with the FCC asking for a temporary waiver with regard to how the company complies with Emergency Alert System requirements on some of its programming channels.

In a story appearing in Inside Radio, the satellite radio operator’s petition says listeners would still be able to hear emergency alerts. The change would only impact whether the tones sent on several of its satellite channels would trigger other broadcasters’ EAS equipment.  The issue surrounds several channels on the XM service that use compression technology in order to squeeze as much content into the available spectrum as possible. However, this compression may prevent EAS codes and signals from activating receivers monitoring the satellite service.

SiriusXM seeks a 30-month waiver to any obligation that it must transmit EAS codes on those compressed channels so that it may develop, test and implement technical solutions that can address the issue.

The company notes that the service is part of the national EAS infrastructure as a Primary Entry Point (PEP) station, working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), providing an alternate transmission means for transporting FEMA-originated emergency alert messages to other PEP stations and state emergency operations centers.  As a result, the company says its participation as a PEP station means its listeners will continue to receive information regarding any national EAS activation on all channels, including those with the above-mentioned compression technology.

The company also says that while its committment to emergency alerting and the EAS system remains strong, the FCC’s EAS testing rules are unnecessarily broad and require revision as they apply to satellite radio.  “The requirement to carry weekly and monthly EAS tests on all SiriusXM channels has imposed an excessive, disproportionate and unnecessary burden on SiriusXM and its subscribers. Unlike other multichannel services such as cable television, the satellite radio service rarely has natural breaks in programming for inserting a test and never has uniform breaks that apply to all of our approximately 150 channels.  All of our music channels are also broadcast without commercials, which further minimizes the opportunities for the natural programming breaks that most broadcasters use to transmit EAS tests.”

“The result is that many of the weekly and monthly EAS tests interrupt what our customers are listening to, and do so in a way that can be intrusive.”

Read the complete filing here.

Pai Proposes To Add Blue Alerts To EAS

Chairman Ajit Pai

On May 19, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced a proposal to add an alert option to the nation’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) to help protect our nation’s law enforcement officers.

Called a “Blue Alert,” the option would be used by authorities in states across the country to notify the public through television and radio of threats to law enforcement and to help apprehend dangerous suspects. The Chairman unveiled the proposal at an event hosted by the Department of Justice announcing the nationwide rollout of the National Blue Alert Network.

“As we have learned from the very successful AMBER Alert initiative for recovering missing children, an informed public can play a vital role in assisting law enforcement,” Chairman Pai said. “By expanding the Emergency Alert System to better support Blue Alerts, we could build on that success – and help protect those in law enforcement who risk their lives each day to protect us.”

Blue Alerts can be used to warn the public when there is actionable information related to a law enforcement officer who is missing, seriously injured or killed in the line of duty, or when there is an imminent credible threat to an officer. As a result, a Blue Alert could quickly warn you if a violent suspect could be in your community, along with providing instructions on what to do if you spot the suspect and how to stay safe.

Chairman Pai’s proposal would amend the FCC’s EAS rules by creating a dedicated Blue Alert event code so that state and local authorities have the option to send these warnings to the public through broadcast, cable, satellite, and wireline video providers.

Suzanne Goucher, EAS representative for the National Association of State Broadcast Associations (NASBA) said “the new code would be voluntary, so if states or stations didn’t want to use the new code for Blue Alerts, they could still use LEW, Law Enforcement Warning, for other incidents/situations.”

House Holds Hearing on Modernizing EAS

On May 20, Representative Greg Walden, (R-OR), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee (and a former broadcaster), led a hearing on modernizing America’s emergency alert system.

“As we move forward, we want to make sure that our first responder community, and the citizens they serve and protect, have access to the latest technologies. And, we want to make sure that it is an evolving force, not something that is simply locked in place,” said Walden.

Broadcasters made their case for the importance of advanced emergency alerts via the new next gen ATSC 3.0 standard and the necessity for the FCC to approve NAB’s request, along with noncommercial broadcasters and tech companies, to roll out the new standard on a voluntary basis.

Sam Matheny, Chief Technology Officer for the National Association of Broadcasters told lawmakers: “All NAB members, the thousands of free, local radio and television broadcasters in your hometowns, take seriously their role as the most trusted source of news and emergency updates. Whether it’s preparing listeners and viewers for the coming storm, directing them to needed supplies and shelter during the disaster, or helping towns and cities rebuild in the aftermath, local stations are part of the communities they serve. And, local radio and TV stations are sometimes the only available communication mediums in an emergency when cell phones and wireless networks fail. In fact, a new poll was released by Morning Consult, reaffirming that broadcasters are the number one medium that the American People turn to in times of emergency, by a factor of nearly four to one.”

“This unique combination of trust and reliability is why, in addition to our ongoing, comprehensive news coverage of emergencies, broadcasters form the backbone of the Emergency Alert System (EAS). EAS connects over-the-air broadcast radio, television and cable systems to communicate critical safety information to the public during sudden, unpredictable or unforeseen events. These capabilities can be enhanced by a station’s voluntary upgrade to Next Gen TV, which will enable significant life-saving advances in emergency communications. One need look no further than the recent and tragic fire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, or the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy to appreciate the vital role of a reliable communications infrastructure during a time of crisis. ”