Broadcasters will benefit from the FCC's changes to the Emergency
Alert System (EAS). Among the changes: Stations now have more time to
rebroadcast the required monthly test, new event codes for emergencies
and the ability to save lives as well as increase ratings.
More time to rebroadcast
The FCC adopted a Report and Order (FCC-02-64) on Feb. 22, 2002,
that increased the time period for rebroadcast of the required monthly
test from 15 minutes to 60 minutes. The increase allows stations to
more easily fit the 30-second test into their normal programming.
Download the entire Report and Order from the FCC's Electronic Document
Management System (EDOCS).
Unlike the required weekly test that each station airs, the required
monthly test is initially broadcast by the state or local primary
station for the EAS operational area. All broadcasters and cable
outlets must log receipt of the required monthly test, then rebroadcast
the test within 60 minutes.
There are a few important details. A station's air staff cannot read
the required monthly test script; it must be rebroadcast as carried by
the local primary station. Because stations are required to monitor at
least two EAS sources, a station may receive another required monthly
test when the alternate LP-2 station rebroadcasts the LP-1's test. This
test should be logged.
The FCC adopted 20 new event codes. Until now, all state and local
emergencies were lumped together under one event code called Civil
Emergency Message. Air staff often had to listen to the entire contents
of each CEM message before deciding whether or not to rebroadcast
Now representatives from local broadcasters and cable systems can
meet with their local and state offices of emergency management and the
National Weather Service to jointly select the event codes that may
affect their area. For example, the Houston Local Emergency
Communications Committee (LECC) recently voted to replace the generic
CEM event code with six new event codes that take effect in March
The major manufacturers of EAS equipment are offering hardware or
software upgrades for the new event codes. All EAS equipment
manufactured after Aug. 1, 2003, must be able to selectively receive,
display, transmit and log the event codes. Stations that replace their
EAS equipment after Feb. 1, 2004, must install EAS equipment with these
Child abduction emergency
The Child Abduction Emergency event code was adopted to meet the
tremendous growth in state and local AMBER (America's Missing:
Broadcast Emergency Response) Plans. The Association of Radio Managers
in Dallas started the nation's first AMBER Plan in 1996 after the
abduction and murder of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman.
In 2001, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
started a campaign to expand AMBER programs nationwide. Today, there
are 66 local, regional and statewide AMBER Plans across the nation.
Twenty-four of those programs are operated on a statewide level. Most
use a combination of EAS, website and e-mail distribution, highway
message signs and broadcast fax to disseminate Amber Alerts to the
media and general public.
Boost your ratings
Stations that agree to voluntarily broadcast state and local EAS
messages may not only save their listeners' lives, but also could
increase their ratings, listener loyalty and public service image.
One advantage of transmitting the EAS codes is that the codes will
activate tone-alert EAS receivers available to consumers. For example,
ASI Industries manufactures the tone-alert Emergency Alert Sentinel
receiver that can be tuned to any AM or FM radio station, whether you
are the local primary station or not. Anytime the station activates
EAS, the receiver will tone-alert and then play the message.
Another image booster idea is a sales promotion where local
advertisers donate EAS receivers to local schools, day care centers,
hospitals, nursing homes, government agencies and other at-risk
Wolf is chairman of the Houston, Texas-area LECC.