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Emergency Alert System Participants to Disseminate CAP Messages

Under the new rules, CAP-formatted EAS alerts will be converted into and processed in the same way as messages formatted in the EAS protocol

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued regulations requiring broadcasters, cable systems and service providers—emergency alert system participants (EAS)—to receive and disseminate “common alerting protocol” (CAP) messages

On Jan. 9, 2012, the FCC issued a “Report and Order”—Review of the Emergency Alert—codifying “the general obligation” for EAS participants to receive CAP-formatted messages.

The document directs EAS participants to not only to receive CAP-formatted alert messages, but also to redistribute those messages in the legacy EAS format over the current broadcast-based EAS, the FCC says.

Specifically, under the new rules, CAP-formatted EAS alerts will be converted into and processed in the same way as messages formatted in the EAS protocol, and they will be used to generate enhanced visual displays for the viewers of the EAS station processing the CAP message, the FCC says.

The current EAS is a national public warning system that requires EAS participants to provide communications capabilities that enable the president of the United States to address the public in the event of a national emergency. EAS participants also distribute, on a voluntary basis, alerts issued by state and local governments, as well as the National Weather Service (NWS).Although a national EAS alert has never been issued, EAS Participants deliver well over a 1,000 alerts issued by state and local governments and the NWS annually, the vast majority of which are weather-related alerts, the FCC says. Therefore, the FCC, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and NWS implement the EAS on the federal level, with the FCC administering and enforcing the technical rules for the EAS.

The present-day EAS is a hierarchical alert message distribution system in which a message originator at the local, state or national level formats a message in the “EAS Protocol,” a format identical to the “specific area message encoding” (SAME) digital protocol utilized by NWS for weather. In addition, to streamlining the EAS rules, the FCC directs EAS participants to take the following measures:

-Limiting the scope of the CAP-related obligations addressed in the rule to those necessary to ensure that CAP-formatted alert messages distributed to EAS participants will be converted into, and processed, in the same way as messages formatted in the current EAS Protocol.

-That EAS participants comply with procedures for conversion set forth in the EAS-CAP Industry Group’s (ECIG’s) ECIG Implementation Guide.

-That EAS Participants monitor FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) for federal CAP-formatted alert messages using whatever interface technology is appropriate.

-That EAS participants be allowed, with certain limitations, to use intermediary devices to meet their CAP-related obligations.

-That EAS participants be required to use the enhanced text in CAP messages to meet the video display requirements.

-That procedures for equipment certification be streamlined to take into account standards and testing procedures adopted by FEMA.

-That the requirement that EAS Participants receive and transmit CAP-formatted messages initiated by state governors be eliminated.

-That the rules governing the processing of Emergency Action Notifications (EAN) be streamlines and other provisions—such as the Emergency Action Termination (EAT) event code and the Non-Participating National (NN) status—be eliminated.

With those changes, and the new CAP-related rules EAS Participants and alert initiators will be able to integrate the EAS with other federal, as well as state and local, CAP-based alerting systems across the country, thus making public alerts disseminated through the EAS more effective and informative, the FCC says.