Category Archives: EAS and Amber Alerts

EAS Comments Filed By State Broadcast Associations

The Michigan Association of Broadcasters, along with other broadcaster associations representing 49 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, recently filed Joint Comments in the FCC’s rulemaking proceeding regarding proposed changes to the Emergency Alert System. We pointed out how state broadcasters associations played an important role in the effort to pass a federal statute authorizing the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), and how broadcasters and State Emergency Communications Committees (SECCs) are committed and critical stakeholders in our nation’s emergency alerting network. A broad theme of our comments was the need for EAS issues to be addressed at the state and local levels where possible, giving SECCs and EAS participants the necessary discretion to make decisions that work for their respective communities. Some of the specific points included in the comments were:

  1. The state broadcaster associations objected to proposals claiming to enhance the security of the EAS network, but which would in fact impose unreasonable burdens on broadcasters, such as requiring broadcasters to notify the FCC of security breaches (e.g., the unauthorized triggering of an alert) within 15-30 minutes. We pointed out that imposing such burdens could have a chilling effect on full participation by broadcasters in EAS.
  2. The state broadcaster associations urged the FCC to adopt rules requiring cable systems to implement “selective override” for TV broadcast stations, which would prevent cable set-top boxes from automatically tuning all channels during an EAS alert to a cable channel providing only generic information about the emergency situation. Without a selective override requirement, TV stations which provide up to the minute news and weather reports during emergency and severe weather situations will continue to be subject to having their signals automatically blocked by cable operators at the very time when detailed emergency or weather information is most needed.
  3. The state broadcaster associations supported the idea of allowing broadcasters, at their discretion, to perform live code EAS testing without the need for FCC waivers, to use EAS tones in PSAs, and to use WEA (Wireless Emergency Alert) tones in news reports designed to inform the public about WEA, (subject to safeguards) to assure that such codes do not trigger alerts downstream.
  4. The state broadcaster associations questioned a proposal to bring social media and other non-broadcast/cable platforms into the EAS network, arguing that those platforms, in many cases are still evolving, and are of uncertain reliability and utility as sources for distributing alerts.
  5. The state broadcaster associations cautioned the FCC against adopting any “one-size-fits-all” template for State EAS Plans which would impair the flexibility of SECCs to tailor plans to their own respective states’ needs, or which would impose unreasonable burdens on the SECCs that would have to rewrite their plans to fit such a template. We also cautioned the FCC generally about adopting proposals which would increase the burdens on SECCs, as they are typically volunteer organizations with limited resources.

Download the FCC filing here.

Urgent EAS Notice: New Equipment Requirements

eas-logo_300MAB ABIP inspector R. Dale Gehman has issued the following advisory.  Please review your EAS equipment immediately to assess your situation.

If you need further assistance, feel free to contact the MAB at (800) 968-7622.

CLIENT MEMO:
R. Dale Gehman – GC&C – June 20, 2016

A new set of EAS Rules and Guidelines adopted by the Federal Communications Commission become effective on July 30, 2016, mandating the following:

1). All EAS Participants must have an operational EAS Decoder that recognizes the new FCC EAS ‘FIPS’ Code #000000 (National Location Code).

2). All EAS Participants must have an operational EAS Decoder that recognizes and acts immediately to ‘relay‐to‐air’ an EAS Activation received coded with the EAS Event Code; ‘NPT’ (National Periodic Test) that is received with a valid ‘FIPS’ Code.

3). All EAS Participants must register with the FCC’s new ‘EAS Test Reporting System’ (ETRS) once the ‘ETRS’ server is operational. The FCC will release a Public Notice announcing the launch of ‘ETRS’ and that upcoming notice will specify a WEB‐URL link that Stations must use to complete their ‘ETRS’ registration.

4). Once item ‘3’ above occurs; Licensees will have sixty (60) days to establish an account and enter each Station’s data into the FCC’s ‘ETRS’. Once ‘ETRS’ is operational, Stations must log in and report all EAS Activations to the FCC’s Server using the log‐in account registered for each Station.

5). FEMA has scheduled a National EAS Test for Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 at 2:20 PM EDT. The National EAS Test will originate using the new EAS FIPS Code 000000 (New National Location Code) and using the modified EAS Event Code ‘NPT’ (National Periodic Test).

SIDEBAR:

Unfortunately, many of the original 1996 vintage EAS Decoders/Encoders must now be replaced as they cannot be upgraded to accomplish both the modified response to receipt of an ‘NPT’ Event Code nor can they be upgraded to recognize the new ‘000000’ FIPS National Location Code.

An example of vintage EAS Gear that cannot be upgraded includes, but not limited to; TFT’s EAS911, the Gray SAGE ENDEC and most of the 1996 era EAS boxes.

Most Stations previously upgraded to current vintage EAS Gear that polls FEMA’s IPAWS-CAP Server via the Internet, in compliance with the FCC Rules. Licensees should insure that current vintage EAS Gear has the latest software and firmware updates prior to July 30, 2016!

Stations that continue to operate with vintage EAS Gear that has not been upgraded successfully to recognize the National FIPS Code ‘000000’ and upgraded with a modified response to the EAS Event Code ‘NPT’ – will be in violation of the Rules on August 1, 2016, a violation that subjects the Licensee to a significant monetary assessment and notice of violation upon inspection.

FCC Issues Order on Multilingual EAS Alerting

fcc-logo_dark-blueOn March 30, the FCC released an order on EAS multilingual alerting. In essence, the order does two things:

1. Within one year after publication in the Federal Register of a notice announcing OMB approval, EAS Participants (broadcast stations, cable systems etc.) need to inform their SECC what steps, if any, “have been or will be taken by EAS Participants, whether individually or in conjunction with state and local emergency authorities, to disseminate, broadcast, or otherwise make available, EAS alert content to non-English speaking audiences in such audiences’ primary language.” Such descriptions shall include relevant factors that explain the degree to which alerts have been disseminated or broadcast in multiple languages. As a corollary to this reporting requirement, the FCC will require EAS Participants to cooperate with state and local emergency authorities, and SECCs, to identify such information. The mandate has no specific compliance method, but rather provides the broadest flexibility to state and local governments and EAS Participants to describe any steps that have been taken to provide multilingual EAS Alerts for their respective communities.

2. SECCs need to incorporate this information in their State EAS Plan. However, the EAS NPRM the FCC released at the end of January includes a LOT of proposals that, if adopted, will change the way Michigan and other states compile and file their state plans.  There is more forthcoming on this.

The FCC order also denies the MMTC’s long-standing petition calling for rule changes that would have, in essence, forced multilingual alerting.

The MAB will continue to keep you informed on EAS changes.

Statewide Tornado Drill/EAS Test – April 13, 2016

Graphic 005In cooperation with the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division, and with the endorsement of the MAB Board of Directors, the National Weather Service will conduct a test with the Tornado Warning EAS Code at 1:30pm Eastern Time on Wednesday, April 13, 2016 as part of Michigan’s Severe Weather Awareness Week. The MAB received a waiver from the FCC to use the actual EAS Tornado Warning Code (“TOR”) for this statewide test.

This test will be in conjunction with a statewide tornado drill. In addition to the EAS activation, your area may experience a test of tornado sirens which may alarm some members of the public. Your assistance in informing the public before the test is requested.

The MAB Board of Directors encourages all broadcasters and cable operators to participate. Other states, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois have conducted similar successful tests in the past few years. Though encouraged, participation in this test by broadcast stations and cable systems is voluntary. This test was also endorsed by the State Emergency Communications Committee (SECC).

If there is a threat of actual severe weather on April 13, the test will be postponed until April 14, 2016. If there is a threat of severe weather on April 14, the test will be cancelled. The go/no-go decision will be made by 4pm the day prior by the National Weather Service, as well as the Statewide Tornado Drill Working group. MAB will post a go or no-go status on its homepage at http://www.michmab.com.

While the audio of this test will repeat several times in the script “This is a Test,” and with the EAS Tornado Code being used, the crawl on TV stations and cable stations will read “A Tornado Warning has been issued for…(and it will list your counties).” We ask that TV broadcasters and cable operators participating in the test to display a “This is a Test” graphic behind the crawl. Download the available graphics package.

The test will be originated on the NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) and these tests will will cover all counties in Michigan and will originate from the NWS offices at Grand Rapids, Gaylord, Marquette, Detroit/Pontiac, and Northern Indiana. They will be relayed via the State Relay (SR) and Local Primary (LP) stations.

What to Expect in Your Market on April 13, 2016

As noted above, its more than likely that your area may experience a test of tornado sirens in addition to the activation of the EAS tornado alert. All businesses, organizations, families, and individuals are welcome to participate in the voluntary statewide preparedness activity. Nearly all state of Michigan facilities will be involved.

How Broadcasters Can Help

This is an excellent opportunity for broadcasters to show the importance of radio and television in times of emergencies. We ask broadcasters to take an active role in their communities to alert listeners and viewers about not only the test alerts, but our role in providing vital information to the public in times of severe weather and other emergencies.

Local Emergency Management Coordinators have been encouraged to reach out to broadcasters in advance of the test.

***The MAB asks broadcasters to reach out to their local emergency management personnel regarding the activities in their own market. We ask you to cover it in your news, community affairs programs, popular personality shows and in your weather breaks.***

Please use Emergency Managers in newscast interviews and on your local morning shows and talk programming.

Not certain who to contact? The MAB has a list of statewide emergency management contacts available here.

A Statewide Tornado Drill Media Toolkit, including talking points, sample social media posts, and more. Download the kit here.

The MAB encourages you to begin on-air mentions and promotion of the tornado test no later than April 7 (one week from the test).

There are recorded radio PSAs for severe weather week available:

PSA #1 :30 Download (Statewide Tornado Drill)
PSA #2 :30 Download (Outdoor Warning Sirens)
Additional scripts for TV/live read: Download

The State of Michigan has prepared graphics for use on your webpage and social media posts here.

Additional Information/Contacts

The official website for the Statewide Tornado Alert: http://michigan.gov/miready

Michigan State Police contact:

Ron Leix
Public Information Officer (PIO)
Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division
Phone: (517) 284-3962
leixr@michigan.gov

Michigan Association of Broadcasters contact:

Dan Kelley
Technology Manager
Phone: (517) 484-7444
dkelley@michmab.com

Statewide Tornado Warning EAS Test April 13, 2016

Michigan Statewide Tornado DrillAt the request of and in cooperation with Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division, the National Weather Service will conduct a test with the Tornado Warning EAS Code at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, April 13, 2016 as part of Michigan’s Severe Weather Awareness Week. The Michigan Association of Broadcasters has received a waiver from the FCC to use the actual EAS Tornado Warning Code (“TOR”) for this statewide test.

The MAB Board of Directors endorsed the test and encourage all member stations to participate. Other states, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois have conducted similar tests in the past few years. However, participation in this test by broadcast stations and cable systems is voluntary.

If there is a threat of actual severe weather on April 13, the test will be postponed until April 14, 2016. If there is a threat of severe weather on April 14, the test will be cancelled. The go/no-go decision will be made by 4pm the day prior by the National Weather Service as well as the Statewide Tornado Drill Working group. MAB will post a go or no-go status on its homepage.

While the audio of this test will repeat several times in the script “This is a Test,” because the EAS Tornado Code is being sent, the crawl on TV stations and cable stations will read “A Tornado Warning has been issued for…”. We ask that TV broadcasters and cable operators making the decision to air the test audio should display a “This is a Test” graphic behind the crawl.

The test will be originated on NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) and will be relayed via the State Relay (SR) and Local Primary (LP) stations.

Promotion and Publicity:  The Michigan State Police, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division, along with other stakeholders including the MAB, the National Weather Service, American Red Cross, Local Area Emergency Managers, and others have prepared a Statewide Tornado Drill Media Toolkit, including talking points, produced radio PSAs, sample social media posts, and more.

This kit and PSAs will be made available online shortly. The MAB will be sending out an additional memo once these materials are available, as well as a suggested on-air promotion timetable (starting roughly the week of April 4, 2016.

Questions? Contact Dan Kelley at the MAB: (517) 484-7444 or dkelley@michmab.com.

Weekly CAP Messages From Michigan State Police

The Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division (MSPEMHSD) has moved to a new location in Dimondale.  During the move, the EMnet terminal was relocated and is not scheduled to be reinstalled for another two weeks.  You will not be receiving another weekly CAP test from MSPEMHSD until early March. Currently, the EMnet terminal at the MSPEMHSD office is the backup terminal, and all emergency messages will be sent out using the terminal at the Michigan Intelligence Operation Center (MIOC).

Please contact Alisha Clack at clack@michmab.com or 517-484-7444 if you have any questions.

Michigan State Police to Issue Blue Alerts Using LEW Code

On February 1, 2016, the Michigan Blue Alert took effect.  The State Emergency Communications Committee (SECC) held a meeting on December 16, 2015 and voted that for the purpose of Michigan State Police (MSP) compliance with MCL 28.697, Blue Alerts could be issued using the Law Enforcement Code (LEW) through EAS.

The Blue Alert is designed to broadcast information to the public about suspects who have severely injured or have killed a law enforcement officer. This broadcast is similar to the AMBER Alert.

In accordance with MCL 28.697, a Blue Alert will only be activated if one of the following is provided for broadcast to the public:

  • Suspect’s name
  • Detailed physical description of the suspect
  • Detailed description of the suspect’s vehicle
  • Full or partial vehicle registration plate numbers or letters

Just like all state issued emergency alerts, with the exception of FCC mandated tests, it is up to each individual station as to which FCC approved EAS codes they choose to activate.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Alisha Clack at clack@michmab.com or 517-484-7444.

Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) – What is it and why does it wake us up?

On Friday, January 15 at 2:00 AM, a WEA was issued for the full states of Michigan and Colorado by Michigan State Police in the form of an AMBER Alert for two missing/abducted children from Coloma, Michigan. Thanks to excellent police work, a law enforcement officer in Colorado recognized the vehicle from a police notification he received earlier, and the abductor was captured. The children were recovered unharmed.

There was a flurry of activity and controversy on social media concerning the value of a statewide Amber Alert WEA that early in the morning. Posts were placed on media websites in the article comment sections from individuals all over the state. I too was awakened and commented on the value of a WEA that early in the morning.

I know why a WEA was issued, and yet I found it very upsetting. I began to think that others might have felt the same. My concern rested in both how and when a WEA is appropriate and the reaction of the citizens concerning it.

Why was WEA developed?

On December 28, 2009, the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), working with the wireless and mobile industry, created the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA), and planned to begin sending alerts to the general public by 2012. They realized that people do not watch TV or listen to radio 24 hours a day, yet their cell phones are usually close at hand.

FEMA gave the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, working with local law enforcement, the capability to issue the AMBER Alerts. A WEA is a text and alert sound to your phone alerting you of an emergency. In most phones, the WEA is already turned on when you get the phone; in others it must be turned on manually. Under settings, you should find a menu that allows you to choose the emergencies for which you wish to be alerted. You cannot choose the tone, since it is solely for the WEA, and the tone will sound even if the phone is on vibrate. Your only option is to select the emergencies for which you wish to be notified. I sincerely encouraging everyone to leave the Wireless Emergency Alert application turned on in your phone. These alerts may save your life or that of others.

The WEA is used very judiciously by law enforcement for AMBER Alerts. It is issued only when law enforcement has a license plate and vehicle description of a suspected abductor. A WEA alert can be activated statewide or in very small areas. It can alert you of serious weather events long after you have turned off other devices and gone to bed. Your cell phone can wake you up and tell you to take cover or that precious children have been abducted.

When it comes to using WEA for AMBER Alerts, I was reminded that awakening the community is exactly what I would want if my child had been abducted early in the morning. This is a very valid correction. In discussing the activation with others, I also realized that we have a 24 hour workforce. At 2:00 AM some people are just going to or coming from work.

A WEA is limited to 90 characters, so it can only give you basic information. Your local radio or television stations are dedicated to giving you detailed information and have been faithful partners in Emergency Alert delivery for decades.

Though it is a rare that a WEA wakes you up at night, as one of the founders of AMBER Alert Michigan, I want to encourage everyone to make certain that their Wireless Emergency Alert is turned on in their cell phone. Even though you could get an early morning WEA, it is the only way to alert a large number of citizens to an emergency and wake them up in the wee hours of the morning

We never want a WEA to be ignored.

If a little disturbance can save a life, that should be well worth the price of a little sleep.

I apologize if my questioning of the early morning activation of the WEA Amber alert in two states seemed to be insensitive to some. It did, however, give me a platform on which to explain the Wireless Emergency Alert system and how it works.

Karole White
President Michigan Association of Broadcasters