EAS, CAP and the 180-day Clock

September 17, 2010

The ongoing buzz about the pending release of the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) and its use with the Emergency Alert System is becoming more important as the anticipated FEMA acceptance of CAP approaches. Speculation exists that says FEMA will adopt the CAP standard by the end of 2010.

As radio waits for the trigger to be pulled, rumors and misconceptions abound about how CAP implementation will work. As part of an online discussion, Harold Price of Sage Alerting posted the following to an EAS discussion list. This is his outline of where things stand for state plans and station adoption of CAP.

Part 11 of the FCC Rules mentions the 180-day clock:
11.55 - EAS operation during a State or Local Area emergency.
All EAS Participants within a state (excepting SDARs and DBS providers) must receive and transmit state-level and geographically targeted EAS messages, as aggregated and delivered by the state governor or his/her designee, or by FEMA on behalf of such state governor, upon approval by the Commission of an applicable state plan providing for delivery of such alerts no sooner than 180 days after adoption of CAP.

It says that stations must be able to receive state alerts, once there is an approved state plan, no sooner than 180 after adoption of CAP. It doesn't say that stations must relay state CAP alerts if there isn't a state plan. It doesn't say there has to be a state plan at the start of the 180 days. It doesn't say a state only has 180 days to come up with a plan. It doesn't say a state ever has to have a plan for state CAP messages.

It just says that if a state does send CAP, stations have to receive and relay it if there is an approved state plan, and the FCC won't require a station to do so sooner than 180 days after adoption.

11.56 - EAS Participants receive CAP-formatted alerts.
Notwithstanding anything herein to the contrary, all EAS Participants must be able to receive CAP-formatted EAS alerts no later than 180 days after FEMA publishes the technical standards and requirements for such FEMA transmissions.

This says that you must be able to receive CAP alerts on a 180-day clock. It doesn't say from whom or from where. It does mention FEMA twice. One source of FEMA alerts is the FEMA-sponsored DM OPEN (IPAWS OPEN) server. All of the existing EAS equipment vendors demoed receipt of CAP messages from the IPAWS server in at the 2010 NAB Show. FEMA will demo it again at the 2010 Radio Show. Going out on a limb here, you will be able to get a box that will receive CAP messages from FEMA, and be compliant with the 180-day clock.

To review, you don't have to receive state CAP messages until they make a plan, and they can't force you to receive them until 180 days after adoptions.

You do have to be able to receive CAP alerts after 180 days. Is there a place where you can do so? Yes, today, federal CAP server DMOPEN. There will even be alerts there for you to receive, including EAN and EAT, and I suspect there will be periodic tests of other kinds as time goes on as well. And, to make this really useful, all your state has to do is send a CAP message to the FEMA server and it will be relayed to all the states in the state.

And, that last part is free. Using no-cost tools available to any authorized user, states can issue alerts via DM-OPEN at no cost.

I'm not saying this is the best way or the only way. It is a way, and it works now. States will want better ways, redundant ways, their own invented-here ways, ways that will take longer than 180 days to conceive, let alone implement.

But, there is no requirement in Part 11 that a state do so within 180 days. CAP based alerting can grow incrementally. Sure everyone has a list of 40 things that must be done before the system is "finished". But before it is usable? Not so many.

And let me be clear, there is nothing in Part 11 that says a state must use DMOPEN.

As your state gets its plan in place, or states with existing systems tell stations how to come and get them, or makes arrangements to send them to you, you enable that feature in your device. If the way the state chooses is one of those already available, you can enable it without a software download. If your state does come up with a new way, your CAP equipment vendor will have an update for you.