It is clear to anyone paying attention that the FCC (along with FEMA) has been working diligently to improve the Nation’s Emergency Alert System (EAS). In the last few years alone, the FCC has, among other things, initiated proceedings requiring EAS Participants to accept messages using a common EAS messaging protocol (CAP) for the next generation of EAS delivery; provided guidance regarding “live code” testing of EAS; adopted standards for wireless carriers to receive and deliver emergency alerts via mobile devices; and conducted the first ever nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System.
In its latest effort, the FCC issued a Report and Order earlier this week revising the FCC’s Part 11 EAS Rules to specify the manner in which EAS Participants must be able to receive CAP-formatted alert messages, and making other changes to clarify and streamline the Part 11 Rules. As I reported previously, all EAS Participants are required to be able to receive CAP-formatted EAS alerts no later than June 30, 2012.
The FCC’s latest Order focuses on the steps necessary to ensure that CAP messages can be processed in the same manner as the currently-used protocol, Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME). The FCC concludes that, for at least the time being, it should maintain the existing legacy EAS daisy chain, including using the legacy SAME protocol, because switching over to a fully CAP-centric EAS system is currently technolocigally infeasible given that most EAS Participants can receive, but are unable to pass along, messages using CAP. Thus, the FCC has a adopted a “CAP-in, SAME-out” transitional approach where EAS equipment will be required to receive and convert CAP-formatted messages into a SAME-compliant message to be sent downstream. In doing so, the FCC agreed with a majority of the commenters in the proceeding, including the National Association of Broadcasters, who argued that “there is a definite value in retaining the current ‘daisy-chain’ EAS distribution system as a proven, redundant method of delivering public alerts.” The FCC’s decision is also consistent with comments filed by a consortium of the State Broadcasters Associations, who stated that “it makes little sense for the FCC to adopt sweeping Next Generation EAS rule changes at this time when legacy EAS, as governed by the Commission’s current Part 11 Rules, is going to be around for the foreseeable future.”
While the FCC’s Order is limited in scope, it is not limited in length, coming in at 130 pages. Highlights of the Order that are of particular interest for EAS Participants include the following:
- EAS Participants will be required to use the procedures for message conversion in the EAS-CAP Industry Group’s (ECIG’s) ECIG Implementation Guide, which was adopted by FEMA on September 30, 2010. Among other things, the ECIG Guide outlines how parties can convert CAP-formatted messages into SAME-compliant messages.
- The FCC has decided that it would be unrealistic to require EAS Participants to use a specific technical standard for CAP monitoring. As a result, while EAS Participants will be required to monitor FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) system for federal CAP-formatted alert messages, they will be permitted to do so using whatever interface technology is appropriate for them as long as the equipment used is able to interface with IPAWS.
- The Order states that the FCC will allow EAS Participants to meet their obligation to receive and process CAP messages by using intermediary devices (stand-alone devices capable of decoding CAP-formatted messages) in tandem with their existing legacy EAS equipment.
- Among a series of Part 11 Rule revisions, the FCC is amending Part 11 to require EAS Participants to use the enhanced rich text data in CAP messages to create video crawl displays.
- The Order indicates that the FCC will allow parties to file for waivers of the requirement to monitor, receive, and process CAP-formatted messages. The FCC indicates that a lack of broadband Internet access will create a presumption in favor of a waiver. However, it is important to note that the FCC has limited such waivers to six months, with the option to renew if circumstances do not change.
- As part of a lengthy discussion, the Order adopts streamlined procedures for EAS equipment certification that take into account the standards and testing procedures adopted by the current FEMA IPAWS Conformity Assessment Program for CAP products. In doing so, the FCC is also incorporating conformance with the ECIG Implementation Guide into the certification process.
- The Order also streamlines rules governing the processing of Emergency Action Notifications (EAN) and eliminates several provisions of Part 11, including the Emergency Action Termination (EAT) event code and Non-Participating National (NN) status.
The FCC also agreed with a proposal advanced by the State Broadcasters Associations and others to eliminate the requirement that EAS Participants receive and transmit CAP-formatted messages initiated by state governors. The FCC agreed that the gubernatorial requirement should be eliminated because “there is near universal voluntary participation by EAS Participants in carrying state and local EAS messages … [and] having an enforceable means to guarantee such carriage seems unnecessary.”
As even the highly condensed summary above indicates, the FCC’s Order is lengthy, very technical at times, and includes many rule changes and tweaks that EAS Participants will need to learn. EAS Participants should therefore become very familiar with the Order if they are going to be able to comply with these requirements going forward. They will also need to stay tuned for further developments in this rapidly changing area. With the June 30, 2012, CAP-compliance deadline growing nearer every day, EAS will remain a lively area for the FCC in the coming months.