FCC Releases Nationwide EAS Test Report

The following is from the NAB’s TV TechCheck:

On April 15, 2013 the FCC released a report discussing the results of the first-ever nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS), conducted jointly in 2011 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). One and a half years after this test was conducted, the Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau has, in this report, released its observations of the test and recommendations for improving the system. Deemed in large part a success by the Bureau, with EAS generally performing as designed were it to be activated for an actual emergency, the test nonetheless highlighted several areas of concern and ways to strengthen the system.

For this test, at 2PM EST on November 9, 2011, FEMA successfully transmitted an Emergency Action Notification (EAN), a live EAS code, to 63 Primary Entry Point (PEP) stations. The results of the nationwide test were largely positive, with only 5% of National Primary Stations failing to receive the alert (see table below). However, the test was not without issues and the Bureau, in its report, points to seven main problems:

  • Widespread poor audio quality nationwide;
  • Lack of PEP station (particularly in the Portland, Oregon area);
  • Problems with the use of alternatives to PEP-based EAN distribution;
  • Inability to receive the EAN;
  • Inability to retransmit the EAN and/or deliver the alert to the public;
  • Short test length (changed just prior to the test, from 2 minutes and 30 seconds to only 30 seconds);
  • Anomalies in EAS equipment programming and operation;

While poor audio quality at the PEP level negatively affected delivery to larger areas of the country, the large majority of problems encountered were the results of equipment and individual EAS participant failures.

In the report, the Bureau recommends another nationwide test after the Commission takes the necessary steps to improve EAS functioning. The Bureau makes a number of recommendations in the report for improvement of EAS and identifies some steps to take for the next nationwide EAS test, including:

  • Examine equipment performance and seek comment on proposed changes to EAS equipment rules to ensure consistency;
  • Update State EAS plans and re-examine FCC State EAS plan rules;
  • Develop and publicize EAS participant best practices for EAS operation;
  • Additional FCC rulemaking to address issues left open in previous EAS orders;
  • Develop a new EAS test database for participants to report to;
  • Reconvene the Federal EAS test working group.

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