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November 9, 2011 Announced as First National EAS Test Date

As I wrote back in February, the federal government has decided to conduct the first-ever national test of the Emergency Alert System. Today, FEMA and the FCC announced that the test will occur on November 9, 2011, at 2pm Eastern Standard Time. On that date, the public will hear a message indicating “This is a test,” but FEMA and the FCC indicate that the entire test could last up to three and a half minutes.

Because the test is a presidential EAS test, it must be retransmitted by radio and television broadcasters, cable operators, satellite radio service providers, direct broadcast satellite service providers, and wireline video service providers. In the announcement, FEMA took pains to note that the test will not simply be a pass/fail exercise, but an opportunity to find out what is working and what isn’t, so that the system can be tweaked and improved.

It is likely that the national EAS test will become an annual event following this initial test. One issue that was not discussed in the announcement, however, is how the current September 30, 2011 deadline for EAS participants to install EAS equipment compatible with the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) could affect the test. The FCC had originally said that the intent of a national test was to assess the existing EAS operation, as opposed to testing the implementation and functionality of the new CAP-compliant EAS equipment soon to being purchased and installed by broadcast, cable, and satellite operators.

As the FCC just last week announced the commencement of a rulemaking to adopt rules and processes for the implementation of CAP, there is a growing feeling that the September 30, 2011 CAP implementation deadline may need to be extended in order to prevent a situation where EAS participants are required to immediately purchase and install new EAS equipment that may or may not comply with the CAP requirements ultimately adopted by the FCC. Whether intended or not, a national EAS test just six weeks after the CAP deadline will likely end up being more about the teething pains of CAP implementation than about how reliably the current EAS infrastructure functions.

As a result, preventing the national test from being sidelined by the inevitable implementation glitches of CAP may be the strongest reason yet for extending the CAP implementation deadline to a date beyond November 9, 2011. It will be good to know how the never-before-tested national EAS infrastructure functions before adding the additional complexities of CAP-compliant EAS equipment to it.