Category Archives: EAS and Amber Alerts

EAS Updates – Nationwide Test, Filing Deadline for Revised Form 1, and New Rules for Use of EAS Tones and Reporting of False Alerts

David Oxenford - Color
David Oxenford

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).

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

Hackers set off Sirens in Genesee County

Genesee County 911 Board Director Mark Emmendorfer has told WEYI-TV (Flint) that the county has been having problems with their emergency warning sirens being set off–and that they are now searching for the culprit or culprits behind the incidents.

The warning sirens in Genesee County have been activated a handful of times over the span of a month and a half, including Tuesday night (7/31), but there was no imminent weather or safety threat at the time.

After the sirens would be turned off, they would somehow be reactivated again. Genesee County 911 contacted West Shore Services, the company that made Genesee County’s warning sirens to investigate.  Engineers and the 911 board are 90% certain that the sirens were deliberately being set off by hackers.  Its reported at the FBI and the FCC is involved in the investigation.

It’s official – September 20 is the next National EAS test.

As previously speculated, Thursday, September 20 at 2:20 p.m. Eastern will be the date and time for the next National EAS Test.  This year’s test will also include testing of WEA, the Wireless Emergency Alert System – so in addition to hearing (or conducting) a broadcast Emergency Alert System text, you’ll likely also receive one on your smartphone.

Remember that broadcasters need to “complete the filing of ETRS [EAS Test Reporting System] Form One, on or before August 27.” Form Two is for the “Day of Test” filing, on September 20. Then Form Three is the “detailed post-test data” that must be filed by November 5.

The Commission’s also inviting “members of the public and interested stakeholder organizations that are in a position to observe test results in their communities” to offer feedback. The FCC does these in coordination with FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency – which says this test “will use the Presidential Alert classification.” See the official FCC release here.  The FCC advises EAS participants to upgrade, if neccessary, EAS equipment software and firmware to the most recent version.  Stations should consult with their equipment manufacturer for any potential updates.

FCC Announces Emergency Alerting Webinar for July 25

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), have announced an upcoming webinar on the Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alerts.

The free webinar will focus on issues relevant to broadcasters, cable television service providers, wireless service providers, state and local emergency managers, and other emergency alert and warning stakeholders. Topics will include:

  • A description of these alerting systems and how they work;
  • Who is eligible to initiate alerts, and how they are authorized;
  • How authorized alert initiators are trained and available training resources;
  • Lessons learned from recent alerting events, including the Hawaii false ballistic missile alert;
  • Recent FCC regulatory actions and changes under consideration; and;
  • Recent FEMA updates to the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).

The webinar will help ensure that participants are familiar with these alerting systems and how to use them. There will be an opportunity for participants to ask questions.

The WebEx webinar will be held from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) on Wednesday, July 25, 2018 and will be closed captioned.

To register, click here, or copy https://fccevents.webex.com/fccevents/onstage/g.php?MTID=eb6caaa28e6188ce55badc6289142ac96, and paste it into your web browser. On the event information page click on the registration link, provide the required information, and then click on “Submit” to complete your registration. Once registered, you will receive a confirmation email with instructions for joining the event, the password, and the link for the meeting.

Reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities are available upon request. Send an email to fcc504@fcc.gov or call the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau at 202-418-0530 (voice) or 202-418-0432 (TTY). Please include a description of the accommodation you will need and tell us how to contact you. Requests for special accommodation should be made as early as possible. Last minute requests will be accepted but may be impossible to fill.

For additional information about the webinar, please contact Greg Cooke at gregory.cooke@fcc.gov or (202) 418-2351.

FCC Adopts New EAS Testing Procedures, False Alert Reporting, PSA Rules

On Thursday (July 12), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took the latest in a series of actions designed, it says, to bolster the reliability of the nation’s emergency alerting systems and support greater community preparedness.

In a Report and Order adopted, the commission set forth procedures for authorized state and local officials to conduct “live code” tests of the Emergency Alert System, which use the same alert codes and processes as would be used in actual emergencies. These tests can increase the proficiency of local alerting officials while educating the public about how to respond to actual alerts.

The procedures adopted by the commission require appropriate coordination, planning, and disclaimers to accompany any such test.

To further enhance public awareness, today’s action will also permit authorized public service announcements (PSAs) about the Emergency Alert System to include the system’s Attention Signal (the attention-grabbing two-tone audio signal that precedes the alert message) and simulated Header Code tones (the three audible tones that precede the Attention Signal) so long as an appropriate disclaimer is included in the PSA.

The action also requires Emergency Alert System equipment to be configured to help prevent false alerts and requires an Emergency Alert System participant, such as a broadcaster or cable system, to inform the FCC if it discovers that it has transmitted a false alert.

In addition, in an accompanying Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the commission seeks comment on other specific measures to help stakeholders prevent and correct false alerts.

The commission also seeks comment on the performance of Wireless Emergency Alerts, including how such performance should be measured and how the FCC should address inconsistent delivery of these messages.

FEMA Announces Plans for Next National EAS Test; to include WEAs

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has proposed September 20, 2018  at 2:18 p.m.  Eastern as the date and time for the next nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System. After conducting a first-ever national EAS test in 2011, the 2018 test would be a fourth dry run of an infrastructure designed to allow a President to speak to the country in case of a national emergency.

New this year, FEMA is proposing a simultaneous first-ever national test of the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA). It would involve sending an 87-character test message to be displayed on mobile handsets. “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed,” the text message would read.

Since wireless emergency alert capabilities launched in 2012, there have been numerous tests of the system targeting specific geographical locations. But this would be the first time a WEA alert is distributed across the entire country and to overseas U.S. territories. A backup date for both tests would be Oct. 3.

Alfred Kenyon, chief of the customer support branch in FEMA’s IPAWS Program Office, wrote in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission stating, “This test is necessary because it will determine if carrier WEA configuration, systems and networks can and will process a Presidential WEA delivering the message via all WEA-enabled cell sites with minimal latency. Public safety officials need to be sure that in times of an emergency or disaster, they have methods and systems that will deliver urgent alerts and warnings to the public when needed.”

Kenyon continued, “Periodic testing of public alert and warning systems is a way to assess the operational readiness of the infrastructure for distribution of a national message and determine what technological improvements need to be made.”

Plans call for a less formal approach to assessing how the wireless test performs. While broadcasters are required to submit a pair of reports to the FCC detailing whether they received and then relayed an EAS message, Kenyon said FEMA and Department of Homeland Security employees throughout the country will be asked to fill out a brief questionnaire to provide a “snapshot” of the wireless alert’s delivery.

Kenyon said if the FCC goes along with the plan, FEMA will develop multimedia public service announcements to begin educating the public about the new broadcast-wireless combination test set to take place in September.

During the 2017 national EAS test, 97.3% of radio stations successfully received the test message and 94% successfully retransmitted the alert, according to FEMA and the FCC. That was a higher success rate than either television or cable. The report pointed to “fewer complications” related to EAS equipment failures as one reason. The biggest issue by far was audio quality, with problems including background noise, static, distortion, echoing, low volume and slow audio playback cited by many stations. Other glitches were more run of the mill, such as stations that failed to update their EAS equipment software or those that incorrectly configured EAS hardware.

The FEMA/FCC report is available here.

FCC Requires Updating By Broadcasters of EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS) Form One By August 27

David Oxenford - Color
David Oxenford

By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP

The FCC recently released a Public Notice reminding all EAS participants that they need to file ETRS Form One by August 27, 2018. This form needs to be filed by all radio and TV stations, including LPFM and LPTV stations (unless those LPTV stations simply act as a translator for another station). While the FCC has not announced another nationwide EAS test for this year, the FCC still requires that the form be updated on a yearly basis – with a separate Form One being filed for each encoder, decoder, or combined unit used by any station or cluster.

The Public Notice provides information about where to file the form, and also links to this help page on the FCC website that provides information about completing the form. These Frequently Asked Questions are also helpful. They note the information that needs to be submitted in the ETRS form, including the geographic coordinates of the station (with latitude and longitude in NAD83), and various information about the station’s “designation”, monitoring assignments and “geographic zone” – all information that should be set out in the state EAS plan for the state in which the station is located. As it may take some time to locate all of the required information to make sure that any station’s Form One is current and accurate, stations should not delay in beginning to work on this form.

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.

Urgent: Sage ENDEC Update Available

Sage Alerting Systems has announced the availability of an important firmware update for its Sage 3644 (blue) EAS box.

Users with the 3644 must install this update to permit the ENDEC to continue to receive EAS CAP alerts from FEMA.   A FEMA signing certificate will expire at 11:45 a.m. on June 24, 2018; if this update is not installed, you will not receive CAP messages from the IPAWS system after that date.

This release also updates the SSL certificate roots that your ENDEC must have in order to download alert audio files from state or county alert originators.

For more information, visit http://sagealertingsystems.com/support-firmware-new.htm.

Updates from other manufacturers: 

Monroe EAS Device users who are being contacted directly.

User notices are being sent out, directing to the following links:
http://www.digitalalertsystems.com/resources_fsb.html and http://monroe-electronics.com/EAS_pages/eas_fsb.html.

Trilithic updates can be found here:

https://eas.trilithic.com/Documents/Firmware/index.html

Gorman-Redlich updates can be found here:

http://www.gorman-redlich.com/downloads/

SECC Meets in Lansing

On May 23, members of the State Emergency Communications Committee met in Lansing to discuss EAS changes and issues in Michigan.

SECC members were updated on the progress of the Michigan State Police Emergency Alert System LPI project which began late last year.  The project is focusing on upgrading the state’s hardware for emergency reporting, along with policies and training.  The good news for broadcasters is that the changes will improve the speed relaying EAS messages to air, as well as incorporating mass notification systems for incidents that may not require a full EAS alert.

In addition, both broadcasters and the public will have access to an online portal that will allow for the dissemination of follow-up information once an alert has been issued.  Presently there is no formal avenue for such information.

It is hoped that the goal for a vendor to provide the neccessary hardware will be selected by the end of 2018 with the entire project shooting for a completion date of December 31, 2019.

Gary Blievernicht, state SECC Chairman and MAB’s Dan Kelley have both been involved in representing broadcasters with the project.

Other items discussed at the May 23 meeting included an update on the 800mHz radios that were provided by broadcasters.  MSP is hiring a project manager to assist broadcasters with radio installation and updating .  Also on the agenda was discussion of local primary reception problems in the Cadillac and Port Huron areas, plus discussion of the local primary station situation in a region, where both the LP-1 and LP-2 are at a shared location, rather than separate locations as desired.

The FCC Publishes Compliance Guide for BLUE Alerts

The FCC published a Small Entity Compliance Guide for BLUE alerts available here. “The use of the BLU event code is voluntary and EAS and EAS Participants may update their software to add the BLU event code on a voluntary basis. Such software updates may be bundled with other routine software updates to minimize burden and expense,” according to the guide.