By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP
The last month has been one where there has been lots of activity dealing with EAS. The FCC announced that it will be conducting a Nationwide EAS Test on September 20, 2018. The FCC has been conducting these Nationwide tests routinely over the last few years (see, for instance, our articles here and here on past tests). This test will include wireless carriers as well as broadcasters. To be prepared for this test, the FCC reminded EAS participants to file their updated ETRS Form One by August 27 (see our article here), and to be prepared to file the post-test Forms Two (filed on the day of the test) and Three (due by November 5) to report on the results of the test at their stations.
At its July meeting (as we briefly noted here), the FCC adopted an Order making some changes to the EAS rules, as well as asking further questions in an included Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The changes included:
- New rules allowing “live code testing” – using actual EAS alert tones in practice alerts, but only after providing lots of publicity that the tones are being used only as part of a test.
- Allowing the use of the EAS attention signal in PSAs and other informational announcements from FEMA and other public interest organizations – but only where simulated tones developed by FEMA are used, as these simulated tones will not trigger other station’s EAS alerts, and only where the tones used are specifically identified as not being a real notice of an emergency.
- Use of the alert tones like this have been approved in the past by the FCC, but only by use of a waiver process. The FCC actions allow for more testing and more public information without having to request FCC approval for each such use.
The FCC also adopted a requirement for stations to notify the FCC when they broadcast a false EAS alert – requiring that notification be provided within 24 hours of becoming aware of such a broadcast. Right now, only a simple email to the FCC Ops Center will be required, but the Further Notice asks whether a more detailed reporting system should be created, allowing for the reporting of false alerts not just by the EAS participants, but also by the public and other interested organizations.
The order also adopted certain technical validation requirements for EAS systems, requiring new codes in the EAS test messages limiting the period in which those messages are valid, to avoid having outdated emergency messages popping up on stations after the emergency is over. Other technical changes dealing with the authentication of EAS alerts are postponed while the industry works out appropriate protocols for that authentication.
Watch for the effective dates of the requirements to notify the FCC of false EAS tests, and look for updates to your EAS receivers to include the new validation limiter (to become effective within a year). And be sure to file the required ETRS Form One by the August 27 deadline, and be ready for this year’s national test of the EAS system.
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).
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