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Homeland Security

Emergency Alert System

On November 9, 2011, at 2:00 pm eastern time, FEMA, in coordination with the FCC conducted the first-ever nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System. Tough decades old and often tested and used at the local level, the EAS had never previously been tested on a nationwide scale. Plans called for the test to occur simultaneously across the U.S. and its territories and to last approximately 30 seconds.

This country has had some type of national warning system in place since 1951, when President Harry S. Truman created CONELRAD (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation) in 1951. CONELRAD provided a means for the President to address the American people, to provide attack warning, and to supply emergency information. CONELRAD soon became obsolete, however, and in 1963, President John F. Kennedy replaced it with the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS). The US national warning system was further improved in 1994 when the Commission adopted rules that replaced EBS with EAS. EAS represented not only a technological advancement, but also an expansion of the warning system beyond the traditional broadcast media, to include cable systems. In 1997, the Commission further extended EAS obligations to wireless cable systems.

The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is a national public warning system that requires broadcasters, cable television systems, wireless cable systems, satellite digital audio radio service (SDARS) providers and, effective in May 2007, direct broadcast satellite (DBS) service providers to provide the communications capability to the President to address the American public during a National emergency. The system also may be used by state and local authorities to deliver important emergency information such as AMBER alerts and weather information targeted to a specific area.

The Federal Communications Commsision (FCC), in conjunction with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service (NWS), implement EAS at the federal level. The President has sole responsibility for determining when the EAS will be activated at the national level, and has delegated this authority to the director of FEMA. FEMA is responsible for implementation of the national-level activation of EAS, tests, and exercises. The NWS develops emergency weather information to alert the public of eminent dangerous weather conditions.

The FCC´s role includes prescribing rules that establish technical standards for EAS, procedures for EAS participants to follow in the event EAS is activated, and EAS testing protocols. Additionally, the FCC ensures that EAS state and local plans developed by industry conform to the FCC EAS rules and regulations.

The FCC continues to implement its EAS responsibilities in an on-going rulemaking proceeding. In the November 2005 Further Notice issued in EB Docket 04-296, the FCC sought comment on how to improve EAS. It stated that a reliable "wide-reaching public alert and warning system is critical to public safety" and that the EAS network should permit "officials at the national, state and local levels to reach affected citizens in the most effective and efficient manner possible." The FCC requested comment on a wide range of issues, including: enhancing the EAS network architecture and message distribution, adopting a common EAS messaging protocol, the feasibility of satellite television and radio service providers delivering state and local emergency messages, whether to require wireline video providers to transmit EAS alerts, the provision of EAS alerts to persons with sight and hearing disabilities, and other issues.

FEMA had also been developing an Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) that would deliver digitally-based alert and warning messages to radio and television stations, personal computers, cell phones and other consumer wireless devices.


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Page last modified: 10-11-2011 16:37:33 ZULU