A later than expected release of a technical update to Emergency Alert System (EAS) hardware used by broadcasters has led the Federal Communications Commission to give stations more time to install the software without running afoul of its rules. Stations were to have had the update installed by Friday, Nov. 8. But the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau will give an extra 60 days on the clock, meaning the updates need to be in place by Jan. 7, 2020.
The software update concerns how EAS equipment validates Common Alerting Protocol (CAP)-formatted alerts which are distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency before they are relayed to the public. That validation process requires that a station’s equipment be configured so that any CAP-formatted alert that doesn’t include a valid digital signature is rejected. It does that by looking at the message received and the digital signature created by the certificate included in the alert. The equipment checks to be sure the certificate matches one of the trusted sources stored in the EAS unit. The pressing issue has come into play since FEMA said one of the certificates it has issued for the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), that has been installed in all EAS devices, is set to expire Nov. 8.
The FCC has announced some significant changes in EAS rules, now allowing “Live Code” tests, the use of the EAS attention tones in “educational” PSA’s, and requiring stations to report “false” EAS activations within 24 hours of discovery.
Click HERE for the full 21-page order which is summarized in the release below.
Rochelle Cohen, (202) 418-1162
For Immediate Release
FCC PROMOTES EMERGENCY ALERT RELIABILITY
Action Supports More Effective Local Emergency Alert Tests and PSAs,
Addresses False Alerts, and Seeks to Improve Wireless Alerts
WASHINGTON, July 12, 2018—The Federal Communications Commission today took the latest in a series of actions to bolster the reliability of the nation’s emergency alerting systems and support greater community preparedness.
In a Report and Order adopted today, the Commission set forth procedures for authorized state and local officials to conduct “live code” tests of the Emergency Alert System, which use the same alert codes and processes as would be used in actual emergencies. These tests can increase the proficiency of local alerting officials while educating the public about how to respond to actual alerts. The procedures adopted by the Commission require appropriate coordination, planning, and disclaimers to accompany any such test.
To further enhance public awareness, today’s action will also permit authorized Public Service Announcements (PSAs) about the Emergency Alert System to include the system’s Attention Signal (the attention-grabbing two-tone audio signal that precedes the alert message) and simulated Header Code tones (the three audible tones that precede the Attention Signal) so long as an appropriate disclaimer is included in the PSA.
Today’s action also requires Emergency Alert System equipment to be configured in a manner that can help prevent false alerts and requires an Emergency Alert System participant, such as a broadcaster or cable system, to inform the Commission if it discovers that it has transmitted a false alert. In addition, in an accompanying Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the Commission seeks comment on other specific measures to help stakeholders prevent and correct false alerts.
The Commission also seeks comment on the performance of Wireless Emergency Alerts, including how such performance should be measured and whether, and if so how, the Commission should address inconsistent delivery of these messages.
Action by the Commission July 12, 2018 by Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 18-94). Chairman Pai, Commissioners Carr, and Rosenworcel approving. Commissioner O’Rielly approving in part and dissenting in part. Chairman Pai, Commissioners O’Rielly, Carr, and Rosenworcel issuing separate statements.
PS Docket Nos. 15-94, 15-91
ASL Videophone: (844) 432-2275; TTY: (888) 835-5322
This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC, 515 F.2d 385 (D.C. Cir. 1974).
This message is from Sage Alerting Systems regarding your Sage Digital ENDEC model 3644. It applies only to users in the United States.
Sage has released a firmware update that you must install to permit your ENDEC to continue to receive EAS CAP alerts from FEMA. A FEMA signing certificate will expire at 11:45am June 24, 2018; if you do not install this update, you will not receive CAP messages from the IPAWS system after that date.
This release also updates the SSL certificate roots that your ENDEC must have in order to download alert audio files from state or county alert originators.
Please read the release notes at https://www.sagealertingsystems.com/release1-1/cr-rev4-release-notes.pdf. They will explain why this release is necessary, and what Sage will do in a subsequent release to reduce the number of this type of update in the future.
The installation process is straightforward, as is described in the release notes. Installing this update will not change any of the settings on your ENDEC.
If you have any questions regarding this update, please email us at email@example.com or call 914-872-4069 and press 1 for support. If you get voice mail, please leave a message and we will call you back.
Posted March 24, 2018
Yesterday’s enactment of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (feel free to read it, it’s only 2232 pages) was welcomed by broadcasters. If you’ve been following the trade press, you’ll know that’s largely because it not only added a billion dollars to the FCC’s fund for reimbursing broadcasters displaced by the spectrum repack, but for the first time made FM, LPTV, and TV Translator stations eligible for repack reimbursement funds.
At a time when trust in government has hit historic lows, Chairman Walden of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and other congressional leaders stepped up, making sure the government lived up to it original promise that broadcasters retaining their spectrum in the Spectrum Incentive Auction would be “held harmless” in the post-auction repack. Of course, a spirited lobbying campaign by NAB and state broadcasters associations across the country didn’t hurt.
What few seem to have noticed, however, is while that short term influx of reimbursement dollars is certainly welcome for stations being involuntarily relocated in the repack, the Consolidated Appropriations Act had other language in it that will bring a longer-term benefit to broadcasters and the public they serve.
One of the lessons Hurricane Katrina and subsequent disasters brought home is that in the modern age, communications is every bit as vital to saving lives as disaster relief supplies and helicopters. A blaring warning siren may be fine for telling the public to dive into the nearest bomb shelter, but weather-related catastrophes require more precise communications, such as telling people where they need to go to avoid or ride out the disaster, as well as where those disaster relief supplies can be found.
These lessons were originally hard won in Florida, where dedicated broadcasters stayed at their stations rather than protect their homes in a hurricane, only to find their transmissions halted when the station generator ran out of fuel and government officials prevented fuel trucks from entering the disaster area to resupply stations. Quick and cooperative action between government officials and the Florida Association of Broadcasters often cleared the way for specific resupply missions, but everyone realized this ad hoc approach was less than ideal.
For that reason, state broadcasters associations in numerous states pushed for, and in many cases obtained, state legislation granting broadcast station personnel “First Informer” status, allowing them access past police lines to keep information flowing to the public in a disaster area. The result was a significant improvement, particularly in disaster-prone states, but it still resulted in a patchwork approach, with some states issuing disaster credentials to broadcast personnel, other states taking a variety of approaches as to how broadcasters identify themselves to emergency personnel with swiftness and certainty, and still other states simply having no reliable disaster area access for broadcasters at all.
Which brings us back to the Consolidated Appropriations Act. Hidden in over 55,000 lines of text are just 20 lines that change the definition of “essential service provider” at a disaster site. Those twenty lines of text expand the definition of an essential service provider to include “wireline or mobile telephone service, Internet access service, radio or television broadcasting, cable service, or direct broadcast satellite service.”
As essential service providers, these entities are now empowered to access disaster areas under the provisions of an existing law, which provides that:
Unless exceptional circumstances apply, in an emergency or major disaster, the head of a Federal agency, to the greatest extent practicable, shall not—
(1) deny or impede access to the disaster site to an essential service provider whose access is necessary to restore and repair an essential service; or
(2) impede the restoration or repair of the [essential] services . . . .
Note that the change only affects Federal officials, meaning that state laws providing broadcasters with First Informer status are still needed for areas that are not Federal disaster areas. However, creating a Federal First Informer status for broadcasters is likely to expedite the adoption of similar laws in states that do not yet have them, and will likely serve to help standardize those laws, as the Federal government implements nationwide standards for how broadcast personnel can quickly identify themselves to government officials in order to gain access to a disaster area.
So while you may not be reading much about it in the trades (after all, “one BILLION dollars in additional repack funds” will always draw the headline), after the repack is done and reimbursements made, granting First Informer status will be the more lasting impact of the Consolidated Appropriations Act for broadcasters and the public that depends on them for rapid and accurate information in a disaster.
Make sure to spread the word.