Public TV Plays A Principal Role For Emergency Alerts

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America’s Public Television Stations and PBS came together on Monday to submit reply comments in response to the FCC’s request for input on the feasibility of including multimedia content in Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) messages.


In their view, public television plays a key role in the EAS, WEA and broadcast datacasting systems and supports any material improvements to these systems.

The reply comments are in response to PS Docket Nos. 15-91 and 15-94, in the matters of
an amendment of Part 11 of the Commission’s rules regarding the Emergency Alert System
Wireless Emergency Alerts.

APTS EVP/COO and General Counsel Lonna Thompson, joined by PBS VP/Programs Management Dana Golub, PBS WARN Engineering & Management Director George Molnar, and PBS Asst. General Counsel and Sr. Director, Standards & Practices Talia Rosen, write:

Public Television and its member stations have undertaken significant work to contribute to public safety and emergency alerting across the country. Public Television is uniquely qualified to support the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and WEA system due to its interconnected nationwide reach, community involvement, and mission-based service to the public. PBS is also an active member of the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS), a standards development body that is engaged in the WEA improvement process.

In their collective view, the PBS Warning, Alert, and Response Network (WARN) “provides a hardened reliable backup to the primary WEA system, with a fully redundant design that leverages public television’s coverage to send WEA messages over public television transmitters that cover virtually all of the population of the United States and its territories.”

In response to the Commission’s inquiry on the feasibility of multimedia content in WEA messages, Public Television notes that first responders and the public at large increasingly rely on the importance of video technology to increase situational awareness and to take effective responsive actions. Further, Public Television has always supported continual improvement of the effectiveness of the WEA system, it says.

However, Public Television would be concerned with any changes to existing WARN responsibilities or inputs to WEA that would alter the format or capabilities of WEA messages “if such changes would materially increase the bandwidth required to pass through such messages.”

They note, “While Public Television’s commitment to the WARN program is unwavering, it is important to note that public stations are working with public safety entities locally in their communities and across their states to leverage the capabilities of broadcasting to distribute essential information during emergencies, and as such, must carefully guard bandwidth to ensure that these vital services remain available to communities and first responders.”

For instance, the APTS membership adopted a resolution that pledged in principle to devote one megabit per second of digital capacity by public television stations for participation in the FirstNet public safety network. Numerous public stations are using datacasting to leverage their broadcast infrastructure to deliver encrypted and targetable IP data alongside their digital television programming. “This combination allows for a nationwide wireless IP delivery network that is natively multicast, just like the TV signals it occupies,” APTS and PBS note.

APTS is working with the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CAL OES) and local public television stations on a multi-year project to develop a robust high-speed data delivery capacity for time-sensitive earthquake early warnings in California’s most populated areas.

The pilot test at Sacramento-based PBS member station KVIE-6 yielded early earthquake warnings in fewer than three seconds, APTS and PBS note.

Other recent examples were also offered to the FCC, including advancements in Houston and Chicago.

“In conclusion, Public Television plays a key role in the EAS, WEA, and broadcast datacasting systems,” the APTS and PBS leaders assert. “Public Television supports any material improvements to these systems that the FCC may determine are beneficial to the public interest, provided that adequate funding and bandwidth for such improvements are available for any affected public television stations and the PBS WARN system.”


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