Acting in a proceeding that began two years ago, the FCC has adopted rules upgrading and modernizing the Emergency Alert System (EAS). Also, the agency is seeking comment on some new proposals including expansion of the system to include state and local governments and to make sure non-English speakers and disabled persons are reached by emergency messages.
The new EAS rules are designed to facilitate delivery of emergency information across a variety of platforms in a digital format and to provide improved access for disabled persons. The change likely to have the greatest impact on broadcasters is the FCC's adoption of the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) for all EAS participants. The CAP system standardizes the delivery of text, audio or video alerts via broadcast, cable, satellite and other communications systems. The idea is that when an emergency occurs, the local, state or federal officials who need to distribute immediate word of the emergency should not have to waste time configuring their alerts for multiple different delivery platforms. The new protocol streamlines their ability to get the notices out as quickly, to as many people and through as many communications means as possible.
While the shift to CAP will require some adjustments on the broadcast side, the required changes are not effective immediately. Participants will have to adopt the CAP system within 180 days of FEMA's adoption of CAP standards. That has not yet happened, so at a minimum, broadcasters will have until the end of the year and probably longer to take the necessary steps.
The Commission has also expanded the EAS requirement to mandate that EAS participants transmit alerts originated by state governors or their designees. Historically, the mandate has been limited to national announcements initiated by the President. And further expansion may be in the works: In its further notice of proposed rule making (FNPRM) on EAS, the Commission is seeking comment on whether EAS participants should also be required to transmit alerts from local and county governments.
As noted earlier, the FNPRM also seeks comments on whether special EAS alerts should be provided to non-English speaking people and persons suffering disabilities. In this context the FCC also seeks comments on:
The need for testing of the EAS system
The need for reporting requirements regarding emergency responsiveness
If a need is found, the nature and extent of such reporting requirements
The Commission previously ordered the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to convene at least one meeting on improving EAS service to disabled and non-English speaking persons. The stakeholders were given one month's notice, until the end of June, to submit a progress report on these discussions into the record of the rule making proceeding.
On or before October 1, radio stations in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and the Pacific Islands must file their biennial ownership reports with the FCC.
Also on or before October 1, radio stations in the following states and territories must place their annual EEO reports in their public files and post them on their websites: Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Washington and the Pacific Islands.
Martin is a past president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, Arlington, VA. E-mail