On September 30, 2022, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a Report and Order (Order) updating its Emergency Alert System (EAS) rules with the stated goal of making EAS alerts more informative and easier to understand by the public, including persons with disabilities. The Order makes several significant changes to the EAS rules for all "EAS Participants," which includes radio broadcasters, television broadcasters, and satellite, cable TV (including wireless cable service), and wireline video service providers. Specifically, the Order: (1) requires EAS Participants to deliver regularly transmitted state and local alert messages in Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) format where available; (2) revises the required descriptions used to identify three national EAS Codes and prescribes a scripted visual message that EAS Participants must display when FEMA conducts nationwide tests of the alert system in legacy EAS format; (3) deletes an outdated alert code; and (4) makes several conforming edits to its EAS rules for clarity.
The EAS is a national system for disseminating public warnings of impending emergencies over broadcast, cable, and satellite networks to consumers' radios, televisions, and other audio and video devices. EAS Participants are required to transmit alert messages from the President or FEMA that are labeled with the Emergency Alert Notification (EAN) alert code used for national emergencies (Presidential alerts) and are required to transmit nationwide EAS test messages using the National Periodic Test (NPT). EAS Participants may voluntarily transmit other types of emergency alerts including those produced by the National Weather Service and AMBER alerts. The FCC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) separately oversee Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), which are the emergency alert messages sent over participating commercial mobile service providers' networks to consumers' mobile devices. This new EAS Order does not apply to WEA alerts.
1. EAS Participants Required to Deliver Certain State and Local EAS Alerts in CAP-Format Rather than in Legacy EAS Format
The Order requires EAS Participants to deliver certain state and local area EAS alerts in CAP-format where available. Specifically, if an EAS Participant receives a valid state or local alert in the legacy (broadcast) EAS format that covers a type of event and geographic area for which the Participant normally transmits alerts to the public pursuant to its State EAS plan (excluding messages with certain event codes), the Participant must poll the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) feed for a CAP version of the legacy alert.
Where a CAP-formatted alert is available, the Order requires the Participant to transmit the CAP version of the alert, rather than the legacy-formatted version. CAP-based alerts will produce higher-quality audio messages, improve the availability of multilingual alerts, and ensure that more of the alerts displayed on television screens contain all of the information provided by government agencies that initiate them.
The Order also requires EAS Participants to wait at least ten seconds after receiving its header codes before transmitting an EAS alert in legacy format, unless the Participant can confirm that there is no matching CAP version of the alert message available. This ten-second window is aimed to reduce the risk that an EAS Participant sends a legacy alert when a CAP version is available and requires EAS Participants upon receiving a legacy EAS alert message to check whether a CAP version of the same alert is available by polling the IPAWS feed for CAP-formatted EAS messages (CAP-polling).
The Order's mandatory CAP-polling and prioritization requirements apply to all EAS alert categories except for alerts with the EAN, NPT, or Required Weekly Test (RWT) event codes. Notably, the transmission of state and local alerts is not mandated by the FCC rules, but if the alerts are transmitted pursuant to an applicable State EAS Plan, the Order requires CAP polling and prioritization.
2. FCC Revises EAS Alert Text Language for Certain EAS Codes
The Order revises the EAS rules to amend the labelling and language used in both audio and visual messages generated from three national EAS alert codes: EAN, NPT, and PEP (Primary Entry Point). The revised text, detailed below, will be used in visual messages displayed as text on viewers' devices. For alerts issued in CAP format with no audio message, the EAS equipment will automatically generate audio messages that include the revised text. Additionally, the FCC requires a specific scripted visual message that EAS Participants must display when FEMA conducts nationwide tests of the alert system in legacy EAS-only format. The alert language revisions are as follows:
Changes to Code Labels:
- The Order changes the text for the EAN event code from "Emergency Action Notification" to "National Emergency Message."
- The Order eliminates the National Information Center ("NIC") event code because the federal NIC no longer exists.
- The Order changes the text for the PEP originator code label from "Primary Entry Code System" to "United States Government," and replaces the term "Primary Entry Point System" in the Part 11 rules with "National Public Warning System," consistent with FEMA's replacement of the term.
Changes to Alert Text Script:
- When a legacy nationwide test (not a CAP-format alert) is generated from the PEP and NPT header codes and uses the "All-U.S." geographic location code, the Order requires EAS Participants to display the following text: "This is a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System, issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, covering the United States from [time] to [time]. This is only a test. No action is required by the public."
- The Order changes the alert text for the NPT event code from "National Periodic Test" to "Nationwide Test of the Emergency Alert System."
3. Compliance Timelines
All EAS participants, including radio broadcasters (because of the improved audio quality of alerts), are required to comply with the updated rules no later than one year from the effective date of the Order, which will be thirty days after publication in the Federal Register. As an exception, cable operators are allowed additional time to comply with the required change to the text associated with the EAN code and are granted 15 months from the effective date of the Order to implement any necessary software upgrades to comply with the change.
Further, cable operators are granted six years from the effective date to transition to the new "National Emergency Message" text display, to the extent that implementing this change requires replacement of equipment or where software upgrades alone cannot effectuate the change within 15 months.
Please let us know if we can provide any additional information or answer questions concerning the Commission's Order.