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FCC Eyes Expansion of Multilingual Emergency Alerting on Broadcast Radio and TV

The FCC has adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that could make it easier for local emergency managers to issue Emergency Alert System (EAS) alerts over broadcast radio and TV stations in languages other than English, making emergency information more accessible to a wider swath of the public.   

“We want to explore what we can do to make essential information available in multiple languages,” FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said. “I am convinced that if we do this right, we can save more lives.”

Texas’ significant population growth of the last 30 years means more languages are spoken in the state than ever before. While current EAS technology allows for the alerting in other languages, the vast majority of EAS alerts in Texas are currently transmitted in English. In certain areas of the state, especially metro areas such as Houston, this could be a problem. Recent U.S. Census data show more than 26 million people in the U.S. do not speak English very well or at all. 

Texas broadcasters have responded to our ongoing demographic shift with a variety of non-English programming, and not just in Spanish, but other languages as well. There are AM and FM radio stations in Houston and Dallas serving the Hindi and Vietnamese communities for example.

“One of the key multilingual alerting challenges faced by authorities is translating time-sensitive alerts into additional languages during crises,” the FCC said in statement. The proposed rules would address this challenge by offering emergency managers FCC-produced pre-scripted template alert messages and prerecorded audio files in 14 of the most common non-English languages as an option for initiating EAS alerts.  

The 14 languages under consideration are Arabic, Chinese, Creole, French, German, Haitian, Hindi, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. 

The message templates and audio would be downloaded and installed in broadcasters’ EAS equipment.
Stations would then be required to transmit on their channel(s) in the template language that corresponds to that station’s programming content. This would include digital subchannels.

The commission acknowledged that some older EAS equipment may not be capable of implementing such a change and would have to be replaced at an estimated cost nationally of about $12 million.

The proposed rulemaking also seeks comments on developing and implementing American Sign 
Language (ASL) versions of the template alerts, including how ASL translations of the template scripts 
could be processed and displayed on television. 

Questions? Contact TAB’s Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944. 

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