Sunday, January 07, 2007

Emergency Alert System

Many of you heard the Emergency Alert System (EAS) messages distributed on satellite radio recently. As of December 31, 2006, the two Satellite Digital Audio Radio Service (SDARS) providers—XM and Sirius—are required to participate in the EAS on a national level. Participation on the state and local level is voluntary, although both SDARS providers have decided to participate.

Testing Requirements for SDARS

Monthly Tests

EAS header codes, Attention Signal, Test Script and End of Message (EOM) code:

Tests in odd numbered months shall occur between 8:30 a.m. and local sunset. Tests in even numbered months shall occur between local sunset and 8:30 a.m. They will originate from Local or State Primary sources. The time and script content will be developed by State Emergency Communications Committees in cooperation with affected EAS Participants. Script content may be in the primary language of the EAS Participant. These monthly tests must be transmitted within 60 minutes of receipt by EAS Participants in an EAS Local Area or State.

Weekly Tests

EAS Header Codes and End of Message (EOM) Codes:

Tests EAS Header and EOM codes at least once a week at random days and times on all channels.

The History

What is the EAS? The EAS has its roots in CONELRAD (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation). CONELRAD was started in 1951 under the Truman administration during the Korean War as a means for the “President to address the American people, to provide attack warning, and to supply emergency information.” “Under CONELRAD, designated AM radio stations operated on 640 or1240KHz during an emergency alert so that enemy missiles or bombers could not use broadcast transmissions of other stations as a guide to their targets.”

In 1963, CONELRAD was replaced by the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) under the Kennedy administration. In 1994, the EBS was replaced by the EAS. The EAS represented a technological advancement and an expansion of the warning system beyond the traditional broadcast media, including the cable systems.

The EAS is under the jurisdiction of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). The FCC, FEMA, and the National Weather Service (NWS) implement the EAS at the federal level. The State Emergency Coordination Committes (SECCs) and Local Emergency Coordination Committees (LECCs) develop the state and local plans. The EAS is design to provide the President with the capability of transmitting a message to the public within 10 minutes from any location and takes priority over any other message and preempts any other message in process. The President has sole discretion for initiating the EAS on the national level; the President has delegated this authority to the director of FEMA. There has never been a national alert. Approximately 80% of all EAS alerts are generated by the NWS.

On August 04, 2004, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) in an effort to improve the EAS. Both XM and Sirius were contributors to the formation of the rules that would eventually affect satellite radio.

Then, on November 10, 2005, the FCC issued the Report and Order for the EAS. Prior to this time, the SDARS providers were not required to participate. The Order required the SDARS providers to participate on a national level starting December 31, 2006. They were highly encouraged to participate on a state and local level. Under the requirements, the SDARS providers are required to test the system on a monthly and weekly basis. The rules require that the SDARS providers test the EAS message monthly and weekly on all channels.

On December 27, 2005, XM petitioned the FCC to allow it to test the system on all channels on a yearly basis and on a monthly basis on the weather and traffic channels. On March 02, 2006, Sirius filed a comment is support of XM’s proposals. The FCC has not ruled on this; however, the FCC has had discussions with the SDARS provides where they suggest that the SDARS providers implement something like a “Game Alert” to alert listeners. Sirius told the FCC that it was technically feasible, but current radios could not do this.

Below is the discussion of the SDARS providers taken directly from the Report and Order:

E. Satellite Digital Audio Radio Service

40. Background. Governed by Part 25 of our rules, SDARS provides a wide variety of digital radio programming on a subscription basis to subscribers throughout the contiguous United States.” In 1997, the Commission granted SDARS licenses at auction to two entities: Sirius Satellite and XM Radio Inc. (XM) (formerly, American Mobile Radio Corporation). Most SDARS programming is created in the licensees’ central headquarters in New York City (Sirius) and Washington, D.C. (XM), but SDARS licensees also re-transmit the programming of third-party content providers. Content is currently transmitted exclusively on a nationwide basis. SDARS licensees have recently begun providing metropolitan area traffic and weather updates on a round-the-clock basis by means of dedicated channels, but all subscribers receive each of these channels on a nationwide basis. For example, both SDARS licensees have a dedicated channel providing traffic and weather reports for Philadelphia, which can be tuned into not only by subscribers in the Philadelphia area, but also by all other subscribers throughout the contiguous United States.

41. In the 1994 EAS First Report and Order, the Commission encouraged digital broadcasters to participate in the EAS system. SDARS, however, is not a broadcast service, and is not currently required to participate in EAS. In the EAS NPRM, the Commission sought comment on whether we should adopt rules extending EAS obligations to other digital networks, such as SDARS. We also sought comment on whether SDARS licensees’ national distribution structures affect their ability to discharge EAS obligations effectively.

42. Both providers have already implemented some form of emergency alerts in their programming. XM, in addition to providing regional and local emergency information over its traffic and weather channels,116 has a channel dedicated exclusively to public safety and emergency alerts. XM indicates that this alert channel is committed to providing critical, updated information before, during, and after natural disasters, weather emergencies, and other hazardous incidents. To ensure that critical emergency information is received and transmitted quickly on its traffic and weather channels and the channel dedicated to emergency alerts, XM states that its personnel monitor a variety of sources 24 hours a day including FEMA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NWS, and state and local public safety organizations. Sirius currently has a voiceover alert capability that interrupts programming to transmit a voice message “instruct[ing] listeners that an emergency exists and that they should tune to one of Sirius’ news program channels for further details. Sirius used this voiceover alert capability during the Northeast Blackout in August 2003.

43. Discussion. We amend Part 11 of our rules to require that all SDARS licensees participate in EAS. The new rules will require SDARS licensees to transmit national level EAS messages on all channels. Both XM and Sirius have stated that, once received, they are currently capable of transmitting national EAS messages on every channel. We will require that SDARS licensees receive national EAS messages through an ENDEC unit, the same manner as currently required of broadcasters and cable systems, from which they must directly monitor at least two sources, including one PEP station, or must directly monitor FEMA.124This should not be difficult to accomplish as XM currently already monitors EAS alerts from an LP-I station through an ENDEC unit located at its Washington, D.C. headquarters. We strongly encourage SDARS licensees to have the ability to receive EAS alerts from state and local emergency managers and the ability to disseminate state and local EAS warnings on local traffic and weather channels that the SDARS licensees provide. We will require SDARS licensees to inform their customers of the channels that will and will not be capable of supplying state and local EAS message. Finally, we will require SDARS licensees to test their ability to receive and distribute EAS messages in the same manner required of other EAS participants in section 11.61 of our rules and to keep records of all tests. Although XM states that it is committed to testing its EAS equipment, it suggests that our rules should require it to conduct tests only on its XM Emergency Channel. Although we commend XM for its commitment to test its EAS equipment, we disagree with its view regarding testing requirements. The EAS testing regime is designed to test not only the EAS participant's ability to receive the message from the source it monitors, but also the ability of the participant to disseminate an alert to its entire audience. SDARS licensees should monitor a state or local primary source to participate in testing. Because SDARS licensees will face burdens of equipment purchase, installation and/or training similar to those of DTV and DAB broadcasters and digital cable providers, these new rules will also take effect December 31,2006.

44. We believe that requiring SDARS licensees to transmit national EAS messages will serve the public interest because the current rules do not guarantee that the substantial and increasing number of people who subscribe to SDARS would receive EAS alerts on their SDARS receivers. There are currently over six million SDARS subscribers and this number continues to grow. SDARS is an expanding service, with providers creating partnerships with wireless telephone providers, automobile manufacturers and major media companies.'" Thus, extending national EAS obligations to SDARS will promote the safety of the large and growing number of Americans who are subscribing to this service. We disagree with commenters who claim that voluntary participation in national EAS activations by SDARS licensees would be sufficient. Failure to include SDARS participation in national EAS activations could potentially leave a substantial number of Americans without access to critical information in the event of a national emergency. We agree with commenters who assert that the extension of EAS obligations to SDARS licensees is an important addition to the EAS system. As noted above, both XM and Sirius have stated that, once received, they are currently capable of transmitting national EAS messages on every channel. Moreover, we leave it to the SDARS licensees to design their distribution systems to comply with the EAS rules, as we share the concern of commenters that detailed EAS requirements would limit innovation in the area of developing new ways to provide EAS alerts.

45. In addition, like broadcasters and cable providers, SDARS licensees will not be obligated to transmit state and local alerts. We note, as mentioned above, that SDARS licensees are currently providing some channels containing regional or local traffic and weather information. Because of the nature of this programming, and the likelihood that the audience is located or interested in a particular city or region, we strongly encourage SDARS licensees to develop and implement a distribution system that includes the ability to receive relevant state and local EAS warnings and the ability to transmit those warnings on channels that provide regional and local traffic and weather information. Most emergencies originate at the state and local level and the current EAS includes an interface for state and local emergency managers that allows them to originate and relay state and local EAS messages through radio and television broadcast stations, analog cable systems and wireless cable systems. Unlike broadcast stations and cable systems, however, the SDARS licensees produce and control their programming from facilities, primarily in Washington, D.C. and New York City, that are not necessarily located in the area for which the traffic and weather is being reported and are not located such that an ENDEC unit or units could be used to receive regional or local alerts relevant to every state or local area within the SDARS licensees’ service areas. Accordingly, while we strongly encourage SDARS licensees to develop and implement the ability to receive relevant state and local EAS warnings, we do not believe it is appropriate at this time to mandate that SDARS licensees have such ability.

46. We recognize that SDARS is by nature a national service, and that as a result the development of methods to ensure receipt of state and local alerts by SDARS licensees is likely to be challenging. Currently, both SDARS licensees have implemented methods of monitoring regional and local alerts to provide warnings on their various regional traffic and weather channels and we commend their regional and local public safety efforts. Commenters alluded to the idea of a centralized system to which state and local officials could release emergency alerts as being a feasible solution for satellite licensees to receive regional EAS alerts. Alternatively, the SDARS licensees also suggested that they could explore transmitting state and local alerts if they were contacted directly by state and local emergency authorities.

We will allow SDARS licensees that choose to implement the ability to receive state and local EAS warnings to develop the methods by which they can receive state and local EAS messages.

47. The dissemination of state and local emergency messages by SDARS based on the listener’s location is likely to be challenging as well. Unlike a national EAS message, transmission of a state or local emergency message to appropriate receivers is complicated by the fact that SDARS cannot and does not currently transmit content regionally. Thus, transmission of local emergency information on all channels, which would reach all affected listeners, would also reach -and inconvenience -millions of unaffected listeners nationwide as well. If listeners are deluged with too many emergency messages, most of which are inapplicable to them, then emergency messages may well lose their impact. For this reason, we encourage SDARS licensees that choose to implement the ability to receive and transmit state and local EAS warnings to develop additional ways of distributing EAS messages to the appropriate listeners, regardless of the channel they are listening to. We note that both SDARS licensees suggested distributing state and local EAS messages over their existing traffic and weather channels, and as indicated above, both currently provide some emergency information and alerts to subscribers over these regional content channel. Finally, we require SDARS licensees to inform their customers of the channels that will and will not supply state and local EAS messages. This information should he provided on the SDARS licensee’s website and also distributed in writing to customers at least annually.

48. To alert listeners to an emergency announcement that may interest them, Sirius also suggested exploring the possibility of pre-empting the text box that normally contains the channel name and current programming, to announce the state or region and type of alert, and the channel number transmitting detailed information. We strongly encourage such developments, and the use of the SDARS and DAB text box to display entire EAS messages, which we hope to see included in any next generation public alert and warning system.

References:

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

Report and Order 1-26

Report and Order 27-B-11

Report and Order B12-D2

Report and Order D3-E10+

XM’s Petition

Sirius Support of XM Petition

Sirius Teleconference Call


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