Category Archives: EAS and Amber Alerts

‘ALERT’ Act Gives the Feds Sole Responsibility to Notify the Public of a Missile Threat

Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) have introduced the “Authenticating Local Emergencies and Real Threats (ALERT) Act.” They say this bill would improve the emergency alert system and give the federal government the sole responsibility of alerting the public of a missile threat, prohibiting state and local governments from doing so.

The ALERT Act also mandates the following:

  1. Requires FEMA to establish a process to notify state authorities when a missile alert is issued so they can activate their own protective action plans to ensure public safety;
  2. Requires the IPAWS subcommittee of the FEMA National Advisory Council to make recommendations on the best practices that state and local governments should follow to maintain the integrity of IPAWS.
  3. Requires FEMA to establish minimum requirements for state and local governments to participate in IPAWS within 120 days of receiving the subcommittee’s recommendations.
  4. Requires FEMA to establish a process to test the incident management and warning tool that a state or local government adopts to originate and send alerts to the public in the FEMA IPAWS Lab
  5. Requires FEMA to review its Emergency Operations, National Watch and Regional Watch Centers to assess their ability to track state and local alerts issued under IPAWS and determine which ones they should be notified about when states send them out.

2018 Tornado Drill Scheduled

The 2018 Severe Weather/Tornado Drill EAS Alert is scheduled for  April 11, 2018 at 1:00 p.m.

However this year, Michigan will not be running a “TOR” test as in the past.  After two years of difficulties the test, the State Emergency Communications Committee (SECC) elected to run the EAS Required Monthly Test (RMT) in place of a live TOR test, with some additional language mentioning how EAS can alert in the event of severe weather.

This should be good news for most broadcasters.  An RMT makes all broadcaster participation possible, since they are required to run the monthly test anyway; and it makes it easier as they do not have to air it “live”, interrupting their programming and/or commercials. They can delay it and air at the next natural break, if they choose.  It is just a routine event.

The Michigan Association of Broadcasters (MAB), on behalf of all Michigan Broadcasters, received a waiver from the FCC to run the April RMT in the daytime hours, a month where it would normally air at night/overnight.

The test is a joint effort of the MAB, Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division as well as the National Weather Service.

More information to come, but please mark your calendars.

 

Broadcasters Earn Praise in Congress

Sam Matheny, National Association of Broadcasters

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.

New “Blue Alert” EAS Warning Order Published in the Federal Register

David Oxenford - Color
David Oxenford

By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP,
BroadcastLawBlog.com

As we wrote here, the FCC recently adopted a new Blue Alert code to be added to the warning codes in the EAS system. This code is to be used for warnings about imminent danger to law enforcement authorities. The FCC’s Order (available in full here) has now been published in the Federal Register, making the rule changes effective. However, the FCC has provided one year for new equipment or upgrades to existing equipment to be rolled out, meaning that broadcasters will need to implement these new EAS codes and be prepared to use them by January 18, 2019. Start your preparations to implement these new codes now.

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 MAB membership.

NWS Detroit Office Begins Winter Squall Warnings Through EAS

The National Weather Service’s Detroit office has begun issuing Snow Squall Warnings when necessary.

As an EAS event, this will only affect broadcasters who monitor the National Weather Service Radio originating from the Detroit office.  This includes stations in the EAS Southeast, East Central and Lenawee/Washtenaw regions.  NWS considers this to be a life threatening issue.

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 up until now.  The text will have “Bulletin – EAS Activation Requested.”

As background, the Snow Squall Warning will be issued based on the following:

  1. Visibility 1/4 mile or less for 15 minutes or more.
  2. Sub-freezing ambient road temperatures (or plunging temperatures that would produce a flash freeze).
  3. Gusty winds.
  4. Forecaster judgement of impact, i.e. clear evidence that a snow squall could lead to dangerous conditions and a possible multi-car accident (pileup) when one of the above criterion isn’t quite met.

Anyone with questions regarding the NWS warnings should contact  Rich Pollman at (248) 625-3309 x726.

FCC Adds Blue Alert to EAS

In an order adopted on December 14, the FCC created a dedicated Blue Alert event code in the Emergency Alert System so that state and local agencies have the option to send these warnings to the public through broadcast, cable, satellite and wireline video providers.

Blue Alerts 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.

Officials may also send Blue Alerts through the Wireless Emergency Alert system to consumers’ wireless phones.

Request Filed for Rehearing of Court Decision on Multilingual EAS Alerts

David Oxenford - Color
David Oxenford

By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP,
BroadcastLawBlog.com

As we wrote here, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia recently reached a 2-1 decision upholding the FCC’s decision to not impose obligations on broadcasters to broadcast multilingual EAS alerts. However, MMTC, the public interest group seeking the imposition of the requirements, has asked for what is called a “rehearing en banc,” asking that all the Judge of the Court review the decision of the original panel. The request for the review relies heavily on the opinion of the dissenting judge from the initial panel, who argued that the FCC has twice promised to look at ways to implement multilingual EAS alerts in some form or another, and twice been unable to gather enough information to be able to come to any decision. As the FCC’s most recent decision was based on a premise that it would again seek to gather such information, the dissenting judge asked why the FCC should be trusted to come to a decision now, when it had not been able to do so before.

The full court has called for responsive briefs, where presumably the difficulties in implementing such alerts will be discussed (see our article here). But broadcasters should be watching this request for review, as it raises serious issues that may be considered by the court.

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 MAB membership.

2018 Regional RMT Schedules Available on the MAB Website

The 2018 Required Monthly Test (RMT) schedules for various regions of the state are now posted to  MichMAB.com as part of the website’s Emergency Alert System section.  While there are still a few outstanding schedules still remaining to be collected, most of the areas are now available here.

One change to note for 2018 is that the first of the two MSP-originated tests is being moved from March to April to coincide with the Severe Weather Awareness Week.  A waiver request is pending with the FCC to move this test from the overnight to 1 p.m. on April 11.

After some difficulties were encountered using the actual Tornado activation code (TOR) for the past two years in conjunction with Awareness Week, the State Emergency Communications Committee (SECC) decided this year to instead use a RMT with special language to highlight alerts that may be transmitted by broadcasters during a severe weather emergency.

More information will be coming to broadcasters in the months to come.

NWS Detroit Office To Begin Winter Squall Warnings

The National Weather Service’s Detroit office will begin issuing Snow Squall Warnings when necessary beginning January 3, 2018.

As an EAS event, this will only affect broadcasters who monitor the National Weather Service Radio originating from the Detroit office.  This includes stations in the EAS Southeast, East Central and Lenawee/Washtenaw regions.  NWS considers this to be a life threatening issue.

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 up until now.  The text will have “Bulletin – EAS Activation Requested.”

As background, the Snow Squall Warning will be issued based on the following:

  1. Visibility 1/4 mile or less for 15 minutes or more.
  2. Sub-freezing ambient road temperatures (or plunging temperatures that would produce a flash freeze).
  3. Gusty winds.
  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.

Anyone with questions regarding the NWS warnings should contact  Rich Pollman at (248) 625-3309 x726.