Speak up on EAS

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Speak up on EAS

Jul 1, 2011 1:00 AM, By Chriss Scherer, editor

EAS is a tough subject. There are those who hold it as the ultimate form of public warning. There are those who consider it a non-working burden to stations. Most broadcasters fall somewhere in between.

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I have always felt EAS is a noble effort, just not a well-executed system. It has the potential to be an effective way of distributing information before and after an emergency (although ideally before). EAS has an ideal function to get attention, provide the basic headline and to make the public aware something is happening. Once this is done, the established news and public information outlets can take over.

The basics of EAS operation are stated in the FCC rules. There are some inconsistencies, but these problems are slowly being worked out. Much of the system's inner workings are covered in individual state and local plans. Because of this, there are widely varying ideas and methods in place. Some plans are quite advanced and provide for state-wide communications networks. Some plans are little more than an EBS plan with some updated names.

Some believe EAS should be fully defined in FCC rules. Others believe the area plans should hold the details. Either approach presents difficulties, and this is yet another point of contention with creating functional EAS plans and networks.

In the end it comes down to the individuals writing, maintaining and executing the local plans. Those who serve on the committees to prepare these plans devote their time and energy for what is often a thankless job. Most of these groups seek input from stations and public services, and yet I hear regular complaints about how bad the EAS is. When I press for details on the problems, I always ask if the individual complaining was involved in preparing the area plan. The answer is almost always "no."

That's a problem. Those who complain about EAS but make no effort to fix it get whatever system others design.

The current attention to EAS provides an opportunity for stations and individuals to become more involved in the national rulemaking as well as their local and state plans.

The FCC is currently seeking input on the latest proposed rulemaking. Take advantage of this chance to get involved. I have watched many online EAS discussions and see some good ideas presented, but unless those ideas are expressed to the FCC or to the area plan organizers, the ideas are lost. Not all comments will be rolled into a rulemaking, but if enough voices speak intelligently on an issue, the Commission can be persuaded.

Comments on the NPRM are due July 20. Reply comments are due Aug. 4. Speak up and help craft the next phase of EAS. EB Docket No. 04-296

National test information

By now you know the first national EAS test will be sent on Nov. 9, 2011, at 2 p.m. ET. The test will be sent through PEP stations and the NPR satellite channel, and it will test legacy EAS (not CAP). The test will use the EAN code followed by 3 to 3.5 minutes of audio (not the president's voice) and the EOM. The test will not use the Emergency Action Termination (EAT).

The test will not be carried on NOAA Weather Radio.

Following the test, stations will report their results to the FCC. Some stations are worried that a failed test will result in a fine. While the FCC cannot waive enforcement of the rules, it has discretion in levying fines. The goal of the test is just that: to test the system. The test is not an enforcement exercise.

Radio magazine will post more details of the upcoming test as they are announced.

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