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EAS security, compliance high priority for FCC, FEMA

As the Emergency Alert System has moved into the IP realm, the system itself and overall broadcast facilities alike have become increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks.

FCC officials admonished broadcasters attending the NAB Show last week to make every possible effort to protect the system and their stations, while FEMA officials underscored their intention to conduct more national tests.

“Broadcast facilities are no longer islands; they’re connected to a vast network that can present very real threats,” said Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau Chief David Simpson.

Citing last year’s infamous hacking of a Montana station that generated a “zombie attack” warning, Simpson urged broadcasters to act now and secure their facilities and broadcasts.  Hackers exploited the fact that the station had retained the factory-set password for the EAS unit, rather than creating a unique password as recommended.

Simpson’s counterpart at FEMA, IPAWS division director Antwane Johnson, reconfirmed the agency is planning another national EAS test, though the timing has not been confirmed.

The test would include several changes to address glitches encountered in the first one conducted in November 2011.  Plans are to conduct it in two phases, first within FEMA’s offices, followed by a regional or statewide test.  Future testing would be more frequent and consistent.

Still unresolved is the length of future tests; some advocate for a 3-minute test, but the FCC recognizes the challenges in securing buy-in from the general public and broadcasters.

On another EAS front, the FCC’s associate chief of the Enforcement Bureau, Eloise Gore, announced that more fines for airing ads that include EAS warning tones are in the offing.  Such use of the tones, or simulation thereof, is strictly prohibited.

One communications lawyer sharing the dais with Gore cautioned broadcasters to add indemnification clauses to their ad contracts to protect against – or share in – the liability for violating the rule.

Questions?  Contact TAB's Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944(512) 322-9944.

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