FCC Approves NPRM On Changes To Emergency Alert System
January 29, 2016 at 4:43 AM (PT)
At its Open Meeting on THURSDAY (1/28), the FCC voted to adopt a Notice of Proposed Rule Making to make changes to the Emergency Alert System. The changes include streamlining and automating some state EAS plans filed with the FCC, allowing more tests to be authorized at the state and local level, and permitting state and local tests using the EAS Attention Signal sound. The NPRM also asks for comments on requiring participants to file an annual certification that they are following EAS security best practices, alerting exercises for those with limited English skills or disabilities, and changes in how cable providers and other platforms display alerts.
Chairman TOM WHEELER noted that last weekend's blizzard in the mid-Atlantic region "reminded us how much we rely (on) broadcasters and other TV providers to keep us informed during emergencies" and added, "Technology is evolving, which presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the EAS. We not only need to ensure that Americans continue to reliably receive alerts, but we also have the chance to make alerting even more valuable to the public. Today’s item lays the groundwork to do just that.... One of the greatest benefits of technology is its potential to improve public safety. This NPRM will help us promote better community preparedness and ensure that Americans are best served by the warnings and alerts they receive during emergencies."
Commissioner MIGNON L. CLYBURN said that she "strongly support(s)" the NPRM "because it takes a comprehensive approach to improving those critical systems that warn citizens of imminent threats to life and property.... today’s item, properly recognizes, that advanced commercial technologies, such as social media platforms, can also play important roles in keeping citizens safe.... (and) it proposes several thoughtful approaches in addressing significant vulnerabilities in the nation’s EAS infrastructure."
Commissioner JESSICA ROSENWORCEL, offering her "unconditional support," remembered the creation of the AMBER Alert as "a powerful demonstration of the power of emergency alerts" but added that great programs do not thrive without continued attention and care. The emergency alert program deserves this consideration. It needs to be modernized. Thanks to our Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau this rulemaking starts the process to do just that."
Commissioner AJIT PAI recalled the establishment of CONELRAD by President TRUMAN and said he was "pleased" that the NPRM "will explore ways we can strengthen and improve our alerting system," especially the part that "asks some fundamental questions about the structure of our alerting system. Right now, EAS messages are transmitted in one of
two ways: either through the traditional, broadcast-based EAS protocol or through a newer, Internet-based protocol. Does it make sense to maintain these two approaches for redundancy or other purposes? Or should we switch to a single distribution method?"
But Commissioner MIKE O’RIELLY voiced concern that the Commission must "ensure that we do not place unnecessary burdens on states and other EAS participants... (and) that the alerts are reliable and not so intrusive or testing so pervasive that people start ignoring them." He partly dissented on the issue of including the Internet in the EAS rules, noting that "there are questions about whether our requirements should be expanded beyond channels that carry programming, which could possibly capture channels carrying interactive games, the Internet, and Internet access," and on including over-the-top SVOD services like NETFLIX and HULU.