FCC Seeks Comments on Improvements to the Emergency Alert System
On Aug. 12, 2004, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) seeking comment on whether the Emergency Alert System (EAS) in its present form is the most effective mechanism for warning the American public of an emergency and, if not, on how EAS can be improved. Because these proceedings could impact requirements with respect to participation in the EAS by members of the communications industry, and the allocation of responsibility for the financial burdens associated with such participation, clients may want to file comments in these proceedings.
Comments will be due within 60 days after the FCC’s NPRM is published in the Federal Register, and reply comments will be due within 30 days following that deadline.
The NPRM explicitly recognizes that the communications landscape has evolved since the EAS was conceived and seeks comment on whether the EAS takes maximum advantage of recent technological advances. It also requests comment on rules the Commission might adopt to enhance the EAS’s effectiveness. While focused on the EAS, the scope of the requested comments under the NPRM extends to possible integration with or replacement by or of other emergency notification systems.
Among the specific areas where the FCC is seeking comment are the following:
- What agency or agencies within the federal government (such as the Department of Homeland Security, the FCC, FEMA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and other authorities and stakeholders should be involved in the EAS, what their roles should be in terms of management, operational and oversight responsibility and whether one agency should have the lead role.
- The use, structure and responsibilities of a possible new public/private partnership to ensure effective and efficient delivery of emergency information to the public.
- Whether participation in the state and local EAS should be voluntary or mandatory and the use of incentives to encourage voluntary participation.
- The creation of standards regarding events warranting activation of the EAS. Such standards would be designed to address concerns that program interruptions might otherwise reach a burdensome level.
- Issues related to state and local EAS plans, such as whether states should be required to prepare them (they are not currently required to do so), whether the FCC should create national guidelines and standards for the structure of state and local EAS plans, whether the current mechanisms of using state and local committees for generating such plans should be retained, the need to require periodic updating and review of such plans and enforcement mechanisms relating to any such requirements that may be adopted.
- Whether to require reports with respect to activations to provide an ongoing basis for effectiveness review.
- Whether staff at broadcast stations and cable systems should continue to be permitted to initiate EAS alerts without concurrence from local and state emergency managers and possible standards for such activations.
- EAS structure (how messages are relayed – possible use of satellite transmissions).
- Whether the acquisition of new equipment to accommodate the new EAS codes should be mandated and if so, who should pay for it.
- Expansion of EAS requirements to other services such as IBOC, DBS, DTV, and satellite DARS services.
- Alternate public alert and warning mechanisms such as landline based interactive notification systems via the public switched telephone network, the Internet, cellular capabilities (including cell broadcast) and other methods of reaching televisions, cable boxes, clock radios, cars, computers and other devices.
- Communicating with individuals with disabilities and non-English speakers.
- Miscellaneous issues such as security issues, requirements with respect to location of EAS equipment, testing, training, small operator issues, and enforcement.
- The need for new legislation.
- Open-ended request for comments on any other issues viewed as relevant to the establishment of an effective and efficient public warning system.
Since the proposed rules may impact various areas of your business, please feel free to forward this update to any departments that may be affected. If you would like to discuss the potential consequences of these rulemakings or submit comments, please contact us.