FCC Fast-Tracks EAS Fix

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The Federal Communications Commission is accelerating its effort to revamp the Emergency Alert System, including possibly adding more obligations on broadcasters.

Last week the FCC said it would launch an inquiry into the need for new EAS requirements, a move two steps removed from actually setting new rules. On Wednesday the commission, calling EAS a top priority, said it would go straight to a formal “notice of proposed rulemaking,” which allows new rules to be set as soon as comments and replies on the proposal have been reviewed by the commissioners.

Now, a process that was expected to take a year or more can be completed in roughly six months.

The EAS revamp is being considered because the system as it exists today is viewed by many as a relic of the Cold War.

EAS shortcomings became apparent during the September 2001 attacks. Despite the enormity of the attacks, the system was not activated. In fact, EAS was designed as a failsafe way for the President to communicate with Americans following a nuclear attack or other national catastrophe, but has never been implemented for its original purpose.

Local weather and Amber alerts, however, frequently piggyback on the automated system, which provides text crawls and voice-over messages over TV screens and radio alerts when activated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other local emergency agencies.

Currently broadcasters’ participation in local alert programs is voluntary and the FCC wants input on making participation mandatory.

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