FCC Bureau Recommends Second Test of EAS

Says system is sound but could use improvements and further testing
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The FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau has
concluded in a new report that the Emergency Alert System (EAS) is basically
sound, while conceding there are some problems and recommending another test.

The report incorporates the takeaways from the Nov. 9, 2011,
nationwide test of the EAS system. The FCC identifies broadcasting as "the
one communications media platform likely to continue operating" in the
event of a catastrophic event where access to electrical power and
communications systems may be "significantly degraded or even
eliminated."

The FCC says broadcasters and cable operators in general
reported "widespread successful propagation" of the emergency alert
code, "a result corroborated by cable operators and other EAS participants,
who experienced similar success." 

The FCC defined success both as most participants receiving
and transmitting the code, but also as identifying problems before they became
issues in the event of a real alert. "The first-ever nationwide EAS test
was a success in that it demonstrated that the national EAS would generally
perform as designed, if activated," said the bureau. "At the same
time, the test shined a bright light on several areas -- systemic and local --
requiring improvement."

An EAS alert has never been activated by the president and
has never been tested nationwide -- not to be confused with the thousands of
local alerts and warnings issued each year related to severe weather, child
abductions and other local emergencies.

Among the problems, most of which the FCC said were traced
to equipment issues with individual participants, were:

  1. "Widespread poor audio quality nationwide;
  2. Lack of a Primary Entry Point (PEP) in the area to provide a direct connection
    to FEMA;
  3. Use of alternatives to PEP-based EAN distribution [EAN is the Emergency
    Alert Notification code that activates the presidentially-triggered alert];
  4. The inability of some EAS Participants either to receive or retransmit
    the EAN; 
  5. Short test length; andAnomalies in EAS equipment programming and operation."

The bureau says that before the FCC conducts that second
nationwide test, it should launch a rulemaking examining equipment performance
and seek comment on any necessary changes to the rules; encourage states to
review/update their EAS plans; begin a rulemaking proceeding on possible
changes to EAS plan rules and work with FEMA to develop best practices and
other educational materials for cable operators, TV stations and other
participants.

As to ramping up a second test, it says the FCC
should begin a rulemaking on any operational EAS test issues left open from
previous EAS orders, like use of a test code that would allow for a "less
disruptive" test, developing a new reporting database to improve electronic
filing of test results and encourage the White House to reconvene the Federal
EAS Test Working Group.

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