FCC Proposes Further Strengthening of the Emergency Alert System

The FCC has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) (found here ) with the stated goal of further strengthening the Emergency Alert System (EAS) rules. According to the Commission, the purpose of the NPRM is to “promote participation on the state and local levels, support greater testing and awareness of EAS, leverage technological advances and bolster EAS security.” While many of the FCC’s proposals are directed towards state and local officials in an attempt to encourage their increased involvement in emergency preparedness and EAS alerts, the NPRM also seeks comment on many technical proposals and rule changes that apply to broadcast stations and their use of EAS. Broadcasters are invited to file comments with the FCC on these proposals and to provide input on ways to achieve more active involvement in EAS matters by state and local officials.

The FCC is specifically seeking comment on the following proposals, among others:

  • Whether the FCC should adopt changes to the current EAS designations of its Part 11 Rules (i.e., National Primary (NP) station, State Primary (SP) station, etc.) to ensure a consistent vernacular for EAS designations across all State EAS Plans submitted to the Commission;
  • Whether there should be new EAS designations in the FCC’s Rules to reflect recent EAS advancements, particularly given that EAS Participants are no longer only broadcasters, and many EAS Participants monitor non-broadcast sources such as satellite or cable;
  • Whether the FCC should convert the paper-based filing process for State EAS Plans into a secure, online process using a State EAS Plan Filing Interface (SEPFI), that would be designed to make it easier to draft and file State Plans, and would be interoperable with the FCC’s current Electronic Test Reporting System (ETRS);
  • Whether state and local alert originators and EAS Participants should be allowed to conduct periodic “live” EAS tests as long as “steps are taken to prevent public confusion”; and
  • Whether federal, state, and local governments should be permitted to issue public service announcements using the EAS Attention Signal (i.e., sound), provided that they are presented in a “nonmisleading and technically harmless manner.”

The NPRM also seeks comment on several technical proposals, as well as proposed improvements to EAS security, including the following items:

  • Whether EAS participants should be required to submit an annual certification that they are following EAS security best practices;
  • Whether technological advancements have improved the ability of cable providers to offer more specific and informative alert content and, if so, whether the Commission should retain certain related rule provisions, including the rules pertaining to “forced tuning” and “selective override” of broadcast station signals by cable operators during an emergency;
  • Whether the FCC should adopt a host of proposed changes to its EAS security rules pertaining to inadvertent or unauthorized alerts, patch and account management and segmentation, lockout notifications, and alert authentication and validation; and
  • How technological advances in machine-generated translation (i.e., the use of software to translate text or speech from one language to another) can best be used to provide EAS and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) to non-English speakers.

The NPRM is the latest in a series of proposals offered by the FCC in its effort to improve EAS, and it is part of a broader proceeding that included earlier proposals (in a separate and currently pending NPRM) to make improvements to WEAs used by mobile service providers and state and local officials.

If you have any questions or are interested in filing comments in this proceeding, please contact any attorney in our office.

Categories: Media