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FCC Updates Emergency Alert System (EAS) Rules

It didn’t get much fanfare at the time, but the FCC adopted an order at its mid-July meeting that enacts some changes to its EAS rules and seeks comments on some EAS proposals that are worth noting.  There have been several instances in recent years in which advertisers have used EAS tones in commercials, primarily in action-adventure movie trailers.

Stations have run them without checking the content and inadvertently aired a false EAS alert – a violation of the FCC’s EAS rules as stations are ultimately responsible for the aired material.  Now the commission wants broadcasters to notify the FCC if their station broadcasts a false EAS alert and has enacted a requirement to do so within 24 hours of becoming aware of the incident.  An effective date has not yet been issued.

“Right now, only a simple email to the FCC Ops Center will be required,” said attorney David Oxenford of TAB Associate member law firm Wilkinson Barker Knauer.  Oxenford noted that the FCC is seeking comment on “whether a more detailed reporting system should be created, allowing for the reporting of false alerts not just by the EAS participants, but also by the public and other interested organizations.”

Regardless of what happens in that area, broadcasters should redouble their efforts to screen material produced by outside and inside sources for any errant EAS tones that could be construed as a false alert.  The onus is now on stations to report the transgression and failure to do so in instances in which there is a complaint could prove expensive.  As part of its order the FCC approved some exceptions to using EAS tones in instances in which there is not an actual EAS alert.

Oxenford said the FCC will now allow the use of the EAS attention signal in PSAs and other informational announcements from FEMA and other public interest organizations, “but only where simulated tones developed by FEMA are used, as these simulated tones will not trigger other station’s EAS alerts, and only where the tones used are specifically identified as not being a real notice of an emergency.”

Additionally, the FCC approved what’s called “live code testing,” in which EAS alert tones are used in practice alerts.  It comes with a big caveat said Oxenford, as stations are only allowed to do so “after providing lots of publicity that the tones are being used only as part of a test.”  Previously, this was only allowed by a special waiver from the FCC.  Oxenford has more on the enacted rules and some detail about what is being proposed in his blog post here.

Speaking of tests, don’t forget that there’s a nationwide test of EAS on Sept. 20.  As we mentioned a few weeks ago in the TAB Bulletin, stations are required to update, if necessary, ETRS Form One by Aug. 27.

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

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