FEMA Post-national EAS Test Webinar Reviews Lessons Learned

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FEMA Post-national EAS Test Webinar Reviews Lessons Learned

Nov 29, 2011 3:52 PM, By Chriss Scherer, editor

Washington - Nov 29, 2011 - On Nov. 29, a 90-minute webinar was held by FEMA to discuss the information gathered following the Nov. 9, 2011, national EAS test. At the peak there were nearly 950 people logged in to the webinar.

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The event was moderated by Manny Centeno, program manager, FEMA IPAWS. The extensive list of panelists included:
? Greg Cooke, associate chief of Policy Division, FCC
? Adrienne Abbott, Nevada SECC chair
? Dennis Bookey, Alaska SECC chair
? Matt Polka, president, American Cable Association
? Chris Brandt, cable head-end subject matter expert
? Larry Walke, associate general counsel, NAB
? Kelly Williams, senior director, NAB
? Tom Russell, director, standards, SCTE
? Ann Arnold, executive director, TAB
? Suzanne Goucher, Maine SECC chair
? John Poray, executive director, SBE
? Scott Mason, SBE EAS Education committee chair
? Andy Scott, NCTA
? Mark Manuelian, engineering manager, PEP station WBZ Boston
? Steve Johnson, engineering consultant, NCTA
? Matthew Pope, president, ACA
? Whit Adamson, president, Tennessee Association of Broadcasters
? Paul Rotella, president, New Jersey Broadcasters Association
? Wayne Mulligan, VP emergency services, Connecticut Broadcasters Association
? Larry Estlack, director of technology, Michigan Association of Broadcasters

Antwane Johnson, division director, project manager, FEMA IPAWS, offered some opening comments. He noted that there were some glitches throughout the test, but he feels there was great cooperation by all involved, and overall there was a high level of success.

The intent of the webinar was to look at the success and lessons learned, address the top challenges of the test, provide observations from the field, ways to improve on the shortcomings, and propose some next steps for national EAS.

The webinar started by explaining what was known about the test signal and the repeated audio. Centeno noted that a phone conference bridge was used to send the signal to the PEP stations. This same bridge was used to monitor feeds back from those stations, and a technical malfunction caused the looped delayed audio that everyone heard.

It was also noted that there was a time offset from the originating FEMA unit (which was three minutes fast). The test was sent at 2 p.m. ET, but the test header said the test was sent at 2:30 p.m. This should not have affected the overall relay of the test, but it seems that some EAS units held the test for three minutes (when the activation would start) before replaying.

The panel was asked to note successes of the test. Greg Cooke said that for all the problems the test had, the vast majority of stations received and passed the test. Adrienne Abbott noted that the NPR feed helped fill in holes in the relay system in Nevada.

Dennis Bookey believes the PEP system alone is not sufficient. He said that Alaska relays through a satellite system, a network of translators, and public radio stations. Ann Arnold noted that Texas used a statewide satellite network to further distribute the test. Mark Manuelian agrees that the PEP network is insufficient, but rather than simply add more PEP stations to fill in holes, efforts should investigate additional an distribution means like the NPR squawk channel.

Scott Mason was more blunt in his comments. He believes stations did all they possibly could, but the units that muted during the test need to be fixed and not mute if a second set of headers is received. Had this test been a real activation, many listeners would not have heard any information.

A big question is when the next will be held. While the FCC rules allow for a national test every year, most believe another test needs to be held sooner. Suggested dates ranged from April to June 2012. Scott Mason of the SBE believes that until all tests work perfectly they should be held more often than annually. Once everything works, tests could go to an annual basis.

Still others proposed holding closed-circuit tests to evaluate specific portions of the relay system.

Near the end of the webinar, a suggestion was made to reestablish a national advisory committee on IPAWS and EAS. Suzanne Goucher of the MAB noted that some legislation is about to be introduced to do that. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) is poised to introduce a bill to authorize the IPAWS program (which was created by Presidential order by George W. Bush but has never been authorized in statute). Companion legislation is expected in the House. Read the legistation at the MAB website.

Part of the bill would create a national advisory committee for EAS/IPAWS, and would direct that the EAS training which FEMA has been working on is to be incorporated into the National Incident Management System, which would place EAS squarely in front of the state and local folks who have responsibility for managing emergencies.

Sen. Collins' staff is very interested in receiving letters of endorsement and support for the bill from the various public-alerting interest groups, including the SBE, NCTA, BWWG, SCTE and others. The NAB is sending a letter, and Goucher is gathering the state broadcast associations on a joint letter. She says individual letters are welcome. Letters should be sent to Collins' staffer on the Homeland Security committee, Eric Heighberger (eric_heighberger@hsgac.senate.gov). Goucher believes Collins will formally introduce the bill on Dec. 1 or 2, 2011.

Overall, the webinar provided some good review information. It seems all those involved are aware of the shortcomings and have ideas on ways to improve the system.

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