2010 EAS Summit Reveals Encouraging Progress on EAS Transition to CAP

March 18, 2010


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.

CAP update

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.

-- continued on page 2



Further change is in the future delivery of a presidential EAS message. With FEMA's commitment to deliver those messages in CAP format directly to broadcasters, there will be less emphasis on the Primary Entry Point (PEP) stations as the sole source of the national message. However, the PEP stations will continue to deliver the president's message in legacy EAS format and PEP station expansion will continue with five new PEP stations being added this year to the existing 41. By 3Q2011, FEMA is committed to having a total of 74 PEP stations with coverage of 90 percent of the U.S. population.

Another new IPAWS program is the Geo-Targeted Alerting System (GTAS), a joint project with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to provide emergency managers a tool to determine populations impacted by weather-related factors such as the winds affecting a toxic chemical release cloud. Following the recent announcement of Disaster Management - Open Platform for Emergency Networks (DM-OPEN) as the backbone for the IPAWS CAP network, one of the larger new projects in the IPAWS office is designing the DM-OPEN system architecture. This project sounds to be well underway as well.

Last but not least, FEMA announced it will have a booth at the 2010 NAB Show in Las Vegas. Its booth will feature a demonstration of CAP origination and transport through DM-OPEN to dissemination channels including an EAS/CAP encoder/decoder. This proactive FEMA engagement with broadcasters is good to see.

FCC and NWS

The FCC's updates revolved largely around the EAS Part 11 rule changes that will be needed as a result of the transition to CAP. The FCC will soon request informal comments on the rule changes that will be needed. This is a precursor to the actual notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) the Commission says it expects to release this summer. The FCC has also tasked a working group of the FCC Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) Advisory Committee to advise the Commission on needed rule changes. It was revealed that the FCC National Broadband Plan (released on March 16, 2010) will address EAS and public alerting.

The SBE request for EAS spectrum in the 700MHz D-Block was brought up, and the Commission said it would look into the possibilities. Lastly, the FCC stressed it wants comments on its currently open NPRM on EAS testing. Those comments will determine how the National EAS Test is conducted. Valuable lessons were learned from the Alaska EAS test in January. 84 percent of stations directly monitoring the Alaska PEP station aired the test, but six Local Primary (LP-1) stations did not receive the test.

The National Weather Service (NWS) reported that in the next month or two its CAP alert beta website will transition to the full production version, with backup and full-time support. The Weather Radio Improvement Program (WRIP), which will be completed in two years, will offer CAP message input into NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) systems. This will allow NWR to be a more complete player in the EAS CAP message relay function.

-- continued on page 3



Panel discussions

Issues raised in panels comprised of the EAS attendees often focused on the need for funding and training, both for emergency managers and broadcasters. Some states, such as Washington, have identified federal funds for EAS use, where the state emergency management agency is furnishing EAS CAP units to 220 broadcast stations. FEMA volunteered that it is actively working on both funding and training. The IPAWS office is currently coordinating with other FEMA divisions to examine existing federal grant programs, with the intent of adding specific IPAWS alert and warning language. It is also working with the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) to design EAS CAP and emergency alerting practices training. FEMA mentioned it will shortly be increasing its staff of seven to the full complement of 11 staffers, enabling it to concentrate more heavily on all its projects.

Reports were also given from other EAS partners. The NAB is having regular meetings with the FCC and the FEMA IPAWS office. The NAB's valiant efforts to get FM radio into cell phone handsets continues to produce results, as more and more handsets are offering this immediate, live link to emergency information. It was good to see the EAS-CAP Industry Group (ECIG) acknowledged as an EAS stakeholder partner with a short presentation on their group of 10 EAS/CAP hardware and software vendors, and the contributions ECIG is making to the EAS CAP effort, such as the aforementioned Implementation Guide. Ann Arnold, president of the Texas Association of Broadcasters (TAB), distributed copies of a recent EAS survey coordinated by the TAB and completed by EAS committee members from 54 states and territories. The results can be found on the TAB website.

All in all, it seems from the Summit that FCC and FEMA are working well with each other, with their federal partners, and with the appropriate EAS stakeholder groups in order to design and implement a fully functional and vastly improved CAP-based EAS.


Timm is a broadcast engineer with Journal Broadcast Group-Milwaukee and broadcast chair of the Wisconsin EAS Committee.



Receive regular news and technology updates. Sign up for our free newsletter here.

Comments