Washington - Apr 23, 2007 - In March, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its report to Congress titled Emergency Preparedness. The report is subtitledCurrent Emergency Alert System has Limitations, and Development of a New Integrated System Will Be Challenging. The GAO performed the study to evaluate the current methods of informing the public during emergencies. The report notes the role that radio and TV play in informing the public.
The GAO reviewed the media's ability to meet federal requirements for participating in EAS, stakeholder views on the challenges facing EAS and potential changes to it, and the progress made toward developing an integrated alert system. The GAO reviewed the FCC's proposed rulemaking on EAS and interviewed media outlets, state emergency management officials and federal agencies responsible for EAS, including FCC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, within the Department of Homeland Security.
The Society of Broadcast Engineers, the Partnership for Public Warning and other groups have made regular filings on EAS, and it appears that many of the SBE and PPW ideas have been included in the report.
Within the 46-page report, several conclusions are stated. The report notes that radio and TV stations, cable operators, satellite radio operators and satellite TV operators are required to participate in national-level EAS alerts, and that these groups appear to be prepared to meet this requirement. The report notes that the FCC has limited resources in place to ensure compliance with current EAS requirements. One shortcoming is that many state and local EAS plans rely on station-to-station relays, which are not sufficiently reliable.
To improve the media's ability to issue emergency alerts, the GAO recommends that the DHS and the FCC develop a plan to verify the dependability and effectiveness of the EAS relay system, and that EAS participants have the training to issue effective EAS alerts. Also, the DHS and the FCC should establish a forum for stakeholders to address the challenges of implementing an integrated alert system. The GAO states that the DHS agreed with the intent of the GAO's recommendations, and the FCC provided technical comments.
Radio magazine observation: One of the difficulties in making EAS work is that the system relies on local plans for its success. In most cases, a few broadcasters make the effort to implement a system without the support of local governments or emergency responders to make it work properly. Some argue that it's not the responsibility of broadcasters to develop and implement the system, but that broadcasters should be only a participant. Creating non-over-the-air communications channels and educating the system administrators on these systems is critical to making the system work. Then broadcasters can be a distribution channel in the system, not the primary backbone.
The GAO report may help raise politicians' awareness and understanding of EAS, which may help to resolve some of the long-standing difficulties.
Read the GAO report at www.gao.gov/new.items/d07411.pdf.