On Feb. 28 and March 1, 2010, the 6th annual EAS National Summit was held in Washington, DC. The Summit was funded by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), and organized by a committee of 18 people from the NAB and the National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations (NASBA). With the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on the cusp of transitioning to Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), this year's EAS Summit was of particular interest to the EAS community. This was evidenced by the turnout of 175 emergency managers, broadcasters, cable operators and state broadcasters association representatives from 44 states and territories.
This highly regarded conference also attracted the attention of Congress itself, with the attendance of both the chair and the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response, of the Committee on Homeland Security. Following statements by Subcommittee Chair Rep. Laura Richardson and Ranking Member Rep. Mike Rogers, attendees were able to direct questions to these two members of Congress. Rep. Rogers agreed that federal grant funding is needed for EAS CAP equipment, but wants it limited to the purchase of specific interoperable equipment.
Also discussed was a recent bill passed in Nevada naming broadcasters as first responders with priority for food, water, and fuel during a disaster and the prohibition of confiscation of these items by government. Rep. Rogers felt that this legislation needed to be done state by state, and agreed that the Nevada bill is good model legislation. Rep. Richardson however felt that first responder status would lead to broadcaster requests for funding. Even after audience members assured her that all broadcasters wanted was the status to attain and retain these staples, she remained unconvinced that it wasn't all about money.
The EAS transition to CAP is riding largely on decisions being made by the FEMA Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) office. FCC Rules state that within 180 days of FEMA formally adopting CAP as the new EAS alerting standard, all EAS participants (broadcasters and cable systems) must be capable of receiving and decoding CAP messages. FEMA made a very reassuring announcement at the Summit regarding the availability of CAP messages. At the end of the 180-day period when all EAS participants must have CAP equipment installed, FEMA will have the capability to provide CAP alerts to all broadcasters and cable operators. This alleviates the fear of some in the EAS community that at the end of the 180-day clock there would be no CAP connection to plug in to the mandated CAP decoders. FEMA's intended target date to adopt CAP and thus roll the 180-day clock is currently August/September 2010, but FEMA stated that a recent announcement by the standards-setting body OASIS that its adoption of CAPv1.2 as an international standard is being delayed until the end of May 2010 will likely push FEMA's clock roll into 4Q2010.
While delays are disappointing for the EAS community as well as the IPAWS Office, many in attendance agreed that FEMA is to be commended for extending deadlines when goals are not being met. To do a proper job FEMA must depend on non-federal partners with expertise in their particular fields such as OASIS and the EAS-CAP Industry Group (ECIG), which is vetting the CAP-to-EAS Implementation Guide for FEMA. These delays outside of FEMA's control continue to stretch the CAP timeline, but meanwhile the IPAWS office appears to be making good progress with their in-house projects.
Many shifts in thinking and new initiatives were revealed by FEMA. The Digital EAS (DEAS) program, which involves sending CAP alerts via PBS DTV digital payload, has been discontinued for distributing national alerts. It was described as not meeting the requirements of a national system. However, the DEAS infrastructure will remain in place as a method for state and local authorities to distribute CAP messages in their areas. This is a good example of FEMA living up to its commitment for IPAWS to serve state and local alerting, as well as the national system.
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