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The FCC, FEMA Issue Positive Reports on 2017 Nationwide EAS Test

- More work still needed

The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have issued two separate reports on last fall’s nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS).

The Sept. 27, 2017 nationwide EAS test was designed to assess the reliability and effectiveness of the EAS.

A key part of the 2017 test was an emphasis on testing FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), the gateway through which common alerting protocol-formatted (CAP formatted) EAS alerts are disseminated to EAS participants for transmission to the public.

While both reports were positive overall and noted improvements in performance from the previous nationwide test in 2016, both concluded there are still areas in the system needing work, especially in IPAWS functionality.

The FCC noted the following positive results in its report:

  • A higher overall rate of stations both successfully receiving and successfully retransmitting the test alert (95.8% receipt, as compared to 95.4% in 2016; 91.9% retransmission, as compared to 85.8% in 2016);
  • Increased success of LPFM stations in receiving and retransmitting the test alert (92.5% receipt, as compared to 89.0% in 2016; 83.8% retransmission, as compared to 74.2% in 2016);
  • A better understanding of stations’ roles in the EAS as demonstrated by more accurately reporting a station’s EAS designation (e.g., 237 reported state primary stations, as compared to 344 in 2016);
  • Higher rates of configuring station equipment to monitor IPAWS (96.7%, as compared to 94.0% in 2016);
  • Higher rates of retransmitting the test alert with no complications (88.3%, as compared to 80.2% in 2016); and
  • Fewer complications in participating in the test related to equipment configuration issues.  (203, as compared to 773 in 2016).  

The FCC said the 2017 test results “indicate that EAS Participants have improved in their ability to successfully alert the public using the EAS, and that most equipment is running current generation software, but more work needs to be done in these areas.” 

In 2018, the FCC said it will take a number of steps to improve EAS operations, notably:

  • Encourage EAS participants to adopt best practices for the upkeep of EAS equipment, particularly regarding the updating of equipment software.
  • Reach out to stations referenced in filings with the Public Safety Support Center and other FCC records to ensure future coordination of alert crawl with closed captioning.
  • Work with the SECCs and EAS equipment manufacturers to reach out to EAS participants to encourage them to update their EAS equipment and software to ensure successful participation in tests and compliance with the FCC’s rules. 

Of particular note in the FCC’s report is a mention that the commission will revise ETRS Form Three to address accessibility of the test alert to people with disabilities and non-English speakers.

FEMA’s report said test data revealed that technical issues affect EAS participants’ ability to receive EAS alerts effectively over IPAWS.

For example, 58.1% of test participants first received the test over-the-air rather than from IPAWS (as compared to 56.5% in 2016), and thus were unable to deliver the CAP-formatted digital audio, Spanish, and text files, which likely would have improved alert accessibility to non-English speakers and those with disabilities.

Additionally, filings from representatives of people with disabilities show that interference with closed captioning and other EAS participant practices impeded the full accessibility of the test.

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