Public Safety and Radio Broadcasting

August 1, 2013


The use of radio stations to disseminate information to the general public can be traced back to 1951 when Conelrad (CONtrol of ELectronic RADiation) was implemented. The theory behind the system was pretty simple: Once activated, all stations were to shut down, except certain designated stations (one from each region), that would broadcast on either 640kHz or 1240kHz. The reason for this was to effectively jam the radio direction finders (RDF) of an attacking air force thus preventing it from locking on specific targets. Citizens knew where to tune their radios during such an activation by the triangles printed on the tuning dials.

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In 1964, Conelrad was replaced by the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS). At the height of the Cold War, this method, formerly focused on providing mass notifications of national events, such a nuclear attacks, evolved into a means of providing alerts at the state and local levels. State-level plans were put into place, and unlike Conelrad, stations (now including FM and TV) were allowed to voluntarily participate in the alerting. This was good for a participating station because they would not be required to sign off and they could keep listeners (or viewers) tuned in. Of course if a station did not elect to participate, it would still be required to turn off.

By 1972, state plans were in place, which permitted not only state, but local agencies to activate the system. This marked the beginning of the meaningful relationship between public safety agencies and broadcasters.

CAP

In 1994, the FCC established the EAS (Emergency Alerting System), which utilizes a digital architecture that permits it to operate reliably in unmanned operations, such as cable head-ends. The system is based on the same protocol used by the National Weather Service (NWS).

In May 2007, the Commission adopted a Second Report and Order in which it provided the groundwork for “Next Generation EAS” with four cornerstones:
■ Maintain the existing EAS network;
■ Utilize a common messaging protocol, the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), to be implemented by all EAS participants following its adoption by FEMA;
■ Incorporate new authentication and security requirements; and
■ Foster the deployment of new, redundant EAS delivery systems, including satellite, Internet, and wire line networks. These new networks should support delivery of more targeted and detailed alert information to EAS Participants based on CAP to be developed by FEMA.

FEMA officially adopted the CAP version 1.2 on Sept. 30, 2010. According to FEMA the major advantages of CAP are:

CAP alerts are transmitted in digital format; therefore, there is no degradation of quality of the content that may be experienced with analog methods such as radio.

CAP alerts can be directly available to encoder/decoder equipment within seconds of their creation; therefore, delays or disruptions relating to station-to-station, over-the-air relay are reduced.

The Internet infrastructure has a high level of redundancy and reliability, and may survive when other channels of communication do not.

In addition to EAS-required data, CAP alerts may carry rich information such as audio, video, geographical-location data, etc., that EAS participants may opt to use for supplemental information to provide to their audiences.

- continued page 2



IPAWS

To create an integrated platform that can provide information, not only to broadcasters, but other media such as wireless broadband devices, satellite and Internet providers roadside electronic signage and siren warning systems, the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) system was developed and managed by FEMA. IPAWS utilizes the Open Platform for Emergency Networks (OPEN) to move standards-based alert and information messages between alert and warning systems and is now known as IPAWS-OPEN.

Federal, state, territorial, tribal and local alerting authorities can use IPAWS and integrate local systems that use Common Alerting Protocol standards with the IPAWS infrastructure. IPAWS provides public safety officials with an effective way to alert and warn the public about serious emergencies using the Emergency Alert System (EAS), Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio, and other public alerting systems from a single interface.

State and local alerts may be inserted into EAS several ways:
■ NWS transmits watches and warnings through the EAS via a complete EAS message on NWR. Many broadcast stations and cable systems purchased EAS equipment with receivers that can monitor NWR.
■ Broadcasters and cable operators are permitted to originate an EAS alert. Since civil and weather warnings should come from entities with the legal responsibility for public warnings, many EAS experts believe that this activity should be viewed as an emergency backup capability.
■ A growing number of state and local emergency managers and law enforcement agencies have EAS equipment and enter EAS tests and warnings directly through broadcast stations and cable systems identified in EAS plans. In a few areas officials can originate EAS events through their local NWR station. Implementation procedures should be included in a state and local area EAS plan.
■ State and local emergency managers may call the local NWS office or a broadcaster to request that an alert be issued according to procedures and authentication methods that should be in published local and state EAS plans.

IPAWS started live testing in 2011; however, as of this writing only 140 state and local agencies have completed the necessary authentication steps to use IPAWS. Another 134 have applications pending and are awaiting approval.

The process for becoming authorized to use IPAWS is dictated by FEMA. A federal, state, territorial, tribal, or local alerting authority that applies for authorization to use IPAWS is designated as a Collaborative Operating Group (COG) by the IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO). There are currently numerous types of COGs affiliated with IPAWS varying in size, structure and governance styles. A COG may have members from multiple jurisdictions with each individual member account administered through its software system. To get the required authorization, the COG must:
■ Select IPAWS compatible software.
■ Apply for and execute a Memorandum of Agreement with FEMA. Once executed, a COG identification and digital certificate will be generated and implemented in IPAWS-OPEN. This information will also need to be provided to the selected software developer, in order to properly configure the software to access the system.
■ Complete the IPAWS Web-based training. The course is online at: training.fema.gov/emiweb/is/courseoverview.aspx?code=is-247.a.
■ Upon completion of the course, specific permissions will be granted to the members identified in the application.

It is interesting to note that approximately 70 percent of all EAS activations are related to severe weather events that can now be initiated directly by the National Weather Service specifically to affected areas.

Down the road, look for IPAWS integration with federal, state and local agency radio systems. Currently there is a federal mandate to upgrade all of these systems to the IP-based P25 standard, which permits interoperability between all these different public safety agencies.


McNamara is president of Applied Wireless, Cape Coral, FL.



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