FCC PROMOTES EMERGENCY ALERT RELIABILITY
Action Supports More Effective Local Emergency Alert Tests and PSAs,
Addresses False Alerts, and Seeks to Improve Wireless Alerts
WASHINGTON, July 12, 2018—The Federal Communications Commission today took the
latest in a series of actions to bolster the reliability of the nation’s emergency alerting systems
and support greater community preparedness.
From Inside Radio
What was just an idea on the drawing boards just a few years ago is becoming nearly a routine for broadcasters. The Federal Emergency Management has proposed Sept. 20 at 2:18pm ET 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.
By Shawn and Tom Marhefka for Radio Ink
Over a foot of rain fell in the city of West Plains, Missouri, in a short time on April 29, 2017. That rain, coupled with nearly two feet of rainwater from storms north of town flowing through the city’s saturated waterways, led to dozens of water rescues in town and several hundred thousand dollars of damage. Amazingly, there were no fatalities.
A low-water crossing near West Plains City Hall hits nearly 10 feet several hours after the flooding event in West Plains. Several hundred homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed by the floodwaters.
As a local radio broadcaster, the Ozark Radio Network has long supported the activation of FM chips in smartphones. But it wasn’t until a devastating flood hit our rural Missouri town and the surrounding area last year that we experienced firsthand the real importance of getting the FM chip activated.
New data from Nielsen Audio shows that news/talk radio stations saw a momentous spike in Puerto Rico amid the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The just-released winter 2018 survey for the Nielsen radio diary market reveals that more than 991,000 12+ listeners each week tuned to a news-formatted radio station.
This marks a dramatic increase of more than 100,000 weekly listeners from the most recent survey, Summer 2017. In Fall 2016, Nielsen reported 946,200 listeners in its survey trend; in Winter 23017, the audience was 836,400; in Spring 2017, it was 882,900 and in Summer 2017, 891,400.
Truncated version of a tsunami test message was erroneously broadcast over EAS
SUSAN ASHWORTH, Radio World
Another emergency warning misstep seems to have occurred — this time in Alaska — when the National Tsunami Warning Center issued a supposedly routine communications test at 7 a.m. on Friday, May 11, that was interpreted as a real warning.
Ryan Bell, Columbia Journalism Review
ON SEPTEMBER 19, 2017—the day before Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico—the evening news team at WORA-TV in the coastal city of Mayagüez broadcast its final program before shutting down the station ahead of the storm.
“If Maria was going to be the monster everyone was predicting,” says Carolina Rodriguez Plaza, the news team’s production manager, “we knew the power could be cut off for a long time. We decided to shut down the station and send everyone home.”
Phil Kurz, Government Videos
WASHINGTON--Interested in a technical career at the Federal Communications Commission? Are you currently an engineering student or recent grad from an engineering school? If so, the new FCC Honors Engineer Program may be exactly what you are looking for.
"The use of the BLU event code is voluntary, 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."
On April 10, the FCC released its decision regarding filing EAS plans on line. According to the FCC, “The Commission takes steps to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) by establishing the Alert Reporting System (ARS). The ARS will create a comprehensive online filing system for EAS by combining the existing EAS Test Reporting Federal Communications Commission FCC 18-39 2 System (ETRS) with a new, streamlined electronic system for the filing of State EAS Plans….”
The decision includes issues beyond simply the electronic filing of state EAS plans. Depending on your state, this could result in some changes to your plan. You may want to forward a copy of the decision to your state SECC.
Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau's Report and Recommendations Concerning the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency's January 13, 2018, False Emergency Alert
FEMA has released its report on the 2017 national EAS test. Note particularly the reporting problems discussed in the last couple of pages.
Bipartisan support for a proposal to raise the maximum fine for pirate radio to as much as $2 million emerged in the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology on Thursday. During a discussion into the proposed Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement or “PIRATE” Act, which is being circulated among members, lawmakers agreed the current fines have come up short in the effort to go after pirate radio operators. “It’s high time we pay more attention to the harm being done to consumers and broadcasters alike,” Subcommittee chair Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said.
Federal law presently allows the Federal Communications Commission to impose a maximum fine of $19,246 per day for each violation or each day up to a statutory maximum of $144,344. The proposal would boost that to as much $100,000 per day, per violation with a maximum fine allowed by law of $2 million.
The impact of pirate stations may be well known to anyone in radio, but New York State Broadcasters Association president David Donovan explained to lawmakers how unlicensed stations are putting the public at risk from their potential interference with the Emergency Alert System’s daisy-chain fabric to potentially exposing people to RF radiation from stations that have been known to run up to as much as 3,000-watts. “The bottom line is that if you live in the top floors of these buildings or use a rooftop deck you are being exposed to levels that are above government standards,” he explained. Donovan—armed with photographic evidence of towers topping homes and apartment buildings—also explained how pirates often ignore rules banning advertising for alcohol and tobacco and play unedited versions of songs that would get licensed stations in trouble for violating indecency regulations. “The fundamental purpose of the FCC is to manage spectrum and avoid interference,” Donovan said. “It has become clear that the FCC needs additional tools to combat this problem and the PIRATE Act provides those tools.”
Radio and television stations already beam alerts to find missing children and seniors, and now some in Congress think a similar system could be used to help find anyone else between the ages of 18 and 65. Modeled after Amber Alerts, the proposal would use a variety of media outlets, including radio and TV, to broadcast information about missing persons. Local police agencies would be given the decision-making authority on whether to issue an alert for broadcast. “Giving law enforcement the similar ability of an Amber alert, but for missing adults, will rapidly bring government and public resources to bear,” said Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA) who sponsored the bill.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mike Langner sounds like a radio programmer when he talks about the Emergency Alert System — he says it’s all about the content.
Langner, chair of the New Mexico State Emergency Communications Committee, has been campaigning for improved content quality in EAS alert messages ever since AMBER Alerts started appearing in the early 2000s.
A retired broadcast engineer and technical consultant to the New Mexico Broadcasters Association, he has found a solution to the problem with the help of the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management or DHSEM. He calls the result a “true public-private partnership.”
The FCC has released its preliminary report on the Hawaii false alert. The story now seems to be the employee thought there was a missile coming.
Craig Fugate, Former FEMA Administrator
The false ballistic missile warning on Jan. 13 in Hawaii has raised important questions about America’s emergency alerting apparatus and the best practices for keeping citizens informed during times of crisis. Currently, Hawaiian public safety officials, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and Congress are reviewing what went wrong and how to prevent mistakes in the future.
This incident also offers an opportunity for everyone to review their own emergency preparedness plans. As we saw last year during the natural disasters that wrought havoc across the country – from hurricanes flooding major cities to devastating wildfires to tornado outbreaks – it is imperative that Americans prepare themselves, their families and their homes so they are ready if the worst happens.
Praise for broadcasters, and pressing questions about how things could have gone so wrong in Hawaii dominated the first of what could be several congressional hearings into the Emergency Alert System. Lawmakers’ interest in EAS was piqued by this month’s false alert that warned Hawaiians of an impending missile attack. “The people of Hawaii may be relieved about the false alarm, but they’re also angry,” Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) said during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Thursday. “Human and bureaucratic errors made the crisis worse, but there are also inherent flaws in the system itself,” he added.
This email is to follow up on our listserv discussions in October on the Multilingual EAS reports that broadcasters were required to file with their state SECC by November 6, and which SECCs must then collate and summarize in reports to be filed with the FCC in early May. You may recall that MMTC appealed the FCC’s decision to gather more information through the May 2016 SECC reports rather than immediately imposing a requirement on broadcasters to create multilingual EAS alerts. The MMTC lost that appeal and has now asked for en banc review by the DC Circuit, arguing once again that broadcasters should be required to create and transmit multilingual EAS alerts when an English-language alert is received.
The FCC today released a copy of its court filing in the proceeding opposing MMTC’s request. You can read it here: https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-348831A1.pdf While the FCC’s filing seems quite skeptical of imposing translating and other multilingual EAS obligations on broadcasters (that’s the good news), of note for those of you working with your SECC (or who are the SECC) is the FCC’s defense of its information-gathering efforts to the court. Specifically, the FCC noted that:
MMTC, joined by Judge Millett, insist that the Commission’s decision to “request the same information it had previously sought” is arbitrary. But the agency’s prior requests sought the voluntary submission of information, and the responses turned out to be incomplete. Under the Commission’s new rule, EAS Participants are required to submit reports describing their current and future plans to implement multilingual alerting. These reports will provide the agency for the first time a comprehensive record of what broadcasters are doing to communicate emergency alerts to non-English speakers, and will help inform ‘future Commission or federal action, if appropriate’.”
Obviously the FCC is putting a lot of emphasis on its expectation that all stations will have provided this information to their state SECC, and that the FCC will be receiving in May “a comprehensive record of what broadcasters are doing to communicate emergency alerts to non-English speakers.”
While May is still several months away, I know a number of you have seen at least a draft of your state’s report. In order to assist the FCC in fending off efforts to convert broadcasters from passive EAS distributors to multilingual EAS content creators and translators, those reports need to live up to the FCC’s court claims as much as possible.
As a result, it is in every SBA’s interest to ensure that the SECC report for your state is as impressively comprehensive as possible. You may not be able to get all your stations to submit the info to their SECC, but you can at least make sure that the reports are as polished and comprehensive as possible given what info you do have. Stated differently, a report that starts out with “only 15% of stations submitted info” and ends with “none of those that responded had anything to say about current or planned multilingual EAS alerts” is not putting broadcasters’ best foot forward. While SECCs may be stuck with the response/facts they received, making the reports as professional, polished, and positive as possible will strengthen the FCC’s hand in resisting calls to turn broadcasters into EAS translation services. This will not only avoid additional burdens on broadcasters, but will prevent alerting delays and the risk of stations making very consequential mistakes in multiple languages during an emergency.
Please do what you can in your state to prevent that from happening.
NAB conference examines broadcasters’ responsibilities during natural disasters
Michael Balderston, Radio World
The U.S. was rocked by natural disasters in 2017, resulting in a record $16 billion in losses. From a trio of hurricanes to the biggest wildfire in modern California history, broadcasters covered it all providing vital information to viewers pre-, during and post-event. How the industry covered these events and the lessons learned from the past year were the key areas of focus during NAB’s “Eye of the Storm: Broadcasters’ Role in Emergencies” conference this week.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai keynoted the event, noting broadcasters’ role in promoting public safety is long and storied. “Whenever disaster strikes, audiences will turn to broadcasters because they trust the broadcasters will help them,” the chairman said. He highlighted three areas that are key in continuing to develop that trust: resiliency, alerting and Next Gen TV, where development of new services and applications will further benefit consumers during these emergencies.
John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable
FCC chairman Ajit Pai said Thursday (Jan. 18) that FCC staffers are currently "on the ground" in Hawaii gathering info on the erroneous ballistic missile warning issued by state officials over the weekend.
The warning was relayed by broadcasters as well as via cell phones.
Pai, in a speech kicking off a forum on broadcast emergency communications at the National Association of Broadcasters headquarters in D.C., said that those investigators were looking to find out 1) how it happened; 2) why it took 38 minutes to for the state to issue a correction and, 3) how to make sure it never happens again.
Pai made it clear he was not attacking the messenger.
Hawaii Association of Broadcasters president Chris Leonard says last weekend’s mistaken EAS message about an incoming missile attack should be a wake-up call for broadcasters and emergency management agencies everywhere. While the alert was bogus, how broadcasters reacted is earning praise. "In times of crisis, broadcasters stand on the front lines," FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said.
Alert infrastructure comes under fresh scrutiny after Hawaii`s rude wakeup
Susan Ashworth, Radio World
Questions are being asked all across the country`s communications landscape as regulators, emergency managers and broadcasters attempt to figure out how a false emergency alert was sent out to residences of Hawaii through the IPAWS EAS and WEA systems.
The false alert was sent to smartphones and delivered via TV and radio at 8:05 a.m. local time on Saturday, warning residents that a ballistic missile was inbound to Hawaii. The emergency all-caps alert reiterated the danger by adding "This is Not a Drill." All residents were warned to seek immediate shelter.
Will be showcasing its tech at CES
John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable
With the Dec. 28 deadline for opting in to the state plan for FirstNet, the interoperable public service network went 50 for 50, with California coming in under the wire. California Gov. Jerry Brown made the announcement Dec. 28.
Two territories and the District of Columbia have also opted in. That leaves three territories that have yet to make a decision, but they have until March 12.
The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) is asking the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to review an October ruling that upheld a decision by the Federal Communications Commission not to require that stations transmit multilingual Emergency Alert System messages. MMTC argues a three-judge panel “issued an erroneous decision” when it concluded the FCC was within its authority by opting to “ignore common-sense proposals aimed at saving lives,” calling it “a case of exceptional importance raising significant public safety issues.”
When the FCC wrapped a multiyear rulemaking proceeding in March, the agency decided that that radio and television stations wouldn’t be required to offer EAS messages in languages other than English. The FCC said it would be “difficult if not impossible to do” within the existing emergency alerting architecture. Instead, the Commission decided “voluntary arrangements” among EAS participants are currently sufficient to reach local communities. The agency did however require broadcasters to begin reporting all the steps—if any—that they take to distribute alerts in other languages. Unhappy with that outcome, MMTC filed a legal challenge.
James Careless, RadioWorld
Mainland broadcasters help devastated stations and listeners on storm-struck island
Many weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, radio broadcasters there were struggling to get and keep their signals in air.
Most of the AM/FM stations in service were relying on diesel generators for electricity, because the island’s storm-ravaged power grid was still in terrible shape.
Other stations were just too damaged to get back on air without substantial reconstruction, and that’s a problem since money is in short supply in Puerto Rico these days. Due to the devastation, “there’s no business for radio stations, and when there’s no business there’s no money,” said Jose Ribas Dominicci, executive director of the Puerto Rico Radio Broadcasters Association.
Emergency communications are a complex topic, and an arena filled with special interests
The Blue Alert system was designed to give law enforcement the means to speed the apprehension of violent criminals who kill or seriously injure local, state or federal law enforcement officers. At the request of the Justice Department, the FCC is now considering the creation of a designated Blue Alert “event code” that will be disseminated by the EAS system.
Long before anyone figured out that broadcasting could be entertaining, informative or that it could be financed by advertisers (in fact, before radio could speak and TV see) broadcasting’s most obvious and highest purpose was front and center: saving lives and property. Everything else we do, good or evil, pales in comparison. If we don’t do this, we have no legitimate reason to exist and “our” spectrum should be given away to unlicensed services, mobile alerting, and all those IoT devices and things that do good.
John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable
Make that 33 FirstNet opt-ins.
According to both FirstNet and its partner in the national emergency response broadband network, AT&T, Georgia is the 33rd state or territory to opt in to the system.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal accepted the FirstNet has signed up for the plan.
That follows North Carolina Nov. 15.
FCC Chairman’s two-day visit included stops to tower sites and meetings with local leaders.
WASHINGTON—More than a month after Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai made a two-day visit to the island to understand the recovery efforts still in progress. After speaking with local officials and visiting a number of impacted sites, Pai recognized the challenges that Puerto Rico and its residents still face.
According to a summary issued by the commission, during his trip Pai visited various parts of San Juan and towns along the northeast Puerto Rico coast; he inspected a tower site and associated infrastructure in El Yunque National Forest; met with President Sandra Torres López and Associate Member Alexandra Fernández Navarro of the Telecommunications Regulatory Board; and attended a briefing hosted by FEMA.
Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein want answers from the FCC.
Mollie Reilly, Huffington Post
SAN FRANCISCO ― As thousands of Northern California residents who evacuated last week amid wildfires begin to return home, the state’s U.S. senators want answers to why wireless emergency alerts failed during the deadly blazes.
Craig Fugate served as President Barack Obama’s FEMA Administrator from May 2009 to January 2017. Before that he was Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s Emergency Management Director from 2001 to 2009. Over the weekend, Fugate penned an op-ed piece regarding the recent controversy between the radio industry and Apple.
More than two-dozen radio stations are silent as FCC chief Ajit Pai says there have been “significant outages” left in the wake of Hurricane Irma. As the now-tropical storm makes its way deeper into the southeast, the FCC has expanded its Disaster Information Reporting System to 18 counties in Georgia and three in Alabama.
Issie Lapowsky, Wired
The damage done by Hurricane Harvey is, as the National Weather Service, tweeted ominously over the weekend, “unknown & beyond anything experienced.” Rain continues to fall over the water-soaked region of Southeast Texas where the category 4 hurricane made landfall Friday night. It’s a living nightmare already drawing comparisons to Hurricane Katrina.
One comparison offers a glimmer of hope amid the devastation: Communications networks have held much better. While connectivity was almost completely lost in Rockport, Texas, which was hit hardest by the storm, the Federal Communications Commission says just 4 percent of the 7,804 cell sites in Harvey’s path were wiped out, affecting 148,565 people. By contrast, more than 1,000 cell sites were knocked out during Katrina, preventing millions of calls from going through, according to a post-Katrina FCC report.
Paul McLane, Radio World
U.S. radio and TV stations were supposed to have filled out a particular form by now in advance of September’s national EAS test. But the FCC is extending the deadline because of Harvey.
“We are aware that some EAS Participants are currently responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey,” the commission posted on its EAS Test Reporting System web page.
As Tropical Storm Harvey continued to pound Texas on Sunday – flooding interstates and effectively shutting Houston down – local broadcasters kept residents informed with essential info, even while sustaining damage to facilities, station vehicles and employee homes. At least nine stations have been knocked off the air in the region, according to the FCC. And with the torrential rain expected to continue through Friday, broadcasters are battening down the hatches for more rough days ahead.
Eddie Martiny, president of iHeartMedia’s Houston Region, said local staff has been broadcasting in long form nonstop since 8am Friday, providing listeners with up-to-date info and emergency resources. But the most destructive storm to strike the U.S. homeland since Superstorm Sandy in 2012 also caused the group to lose a station vehicle while water damage to the transmitter of talk KPRC (950) took the station off the air. As of Sunday, iHeart continued to broadcast from five stations in the flood-ravaged market.
The wind from HURRICANE HARVEY is over -- but the rain continues in record amounts and continues to make life a wet hell for residents of HOUSTON and the GULF REGION.
ALL ACCESS reached out to station groups for input on how they were handling this widespread emergency and got lots of feedback:
iHEARTMEDIA/HOUSTON Pres. EDDIE MARTINY remarked, "I have never seen rain like I have witnessed over the last three days, and I remind you, I am from NEW ORLEANS. Over 30 inches so far and expecting at least another 30 inches in the next three days. The city of HOUSTON is shut down with all major interstates flooded.
The Bureau also announces the release of 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 will supersede all other EAS Handbooks, and must be in place in time for the 2017 nationwide EAS test. 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. A writable PDF version of the Handbook can be found on the Bureau's web site at https://www.fcc.gov/general/eas-test-reporting-system.
Emily Reigart, TV Technology
Intended to help small businesses, nonprofits and small governmental jurisdictions comply with rules
WASHINGTON—To help small businesses, nonprofits and small governmental jurisdictions comply with its latest EAS rules, the Federal Communications Commission has released the "Small Entity Compliance Guide Review of the Emergency Alert System."
Last year, the commission adopted an order resolving a petition filed years before by the Independent Spanish Broadcasters Association, Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ Inc. and Minority Media and Telecommunications Council. It revised Part 11 EAS regulations to establish certain reporting requirements applicable to EAS participants, including radio stations, and to State Emergency Communications Committees.
The alert occurred at 12:25am and included the message: “A broadcast station or cable system has issued a civil danger warning for the following counties/areas: Guam, Guam; at 12:25am on Aug. 15, 2017 effective until 12:40am.”
The Offices of Guam Homeland Security and Civil Defense (GHS/OCD), along with the Mariana Regional Fusion Control (MFRC) said there was no change in the threat levels for the island territory and the test was unscheduled and an error. They added that they are working with federal and military partners to continue to monitor the recent events surrounding North Korea and threats aimed at the island territory.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in collaboration with the FCC, will conduct a nationwide test of the EAS on September 27, 2017 at 2:20 PM EDT. If conditions on the day of the test require the rescheduling of the test, a secondary test date is scheduled for October 4, 2017.
All EAS Participants must complete the 2017 ETRS Form One on or before August 28, 2017. Each EAS Participant should file a separate copy of Form One for each of its EAS decoders, EAS encoders, and units combining such decoder and encoder functions.
On or before 11:59 p.m., September 27, 2017, EAS Participants must submit any updates or corrections to their 2017 Form One filings and must file the “day of test” information sought by ETRS Form Two.
On or before November 13, 2017, EAS Participants must file the detailed post-test data sought by ETRS Form Three.