National EAS test scheduled for 11/9


Rear Admiral James Barnett, Jr., Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, FCC, announced that the National Emergency Alert System (EAS) Test will take place 11/9 at 2pm ET. The announcement was made 6/9 during a regularly scheduled FCC Meeting. 

“With the date of the National EAS Test now set, broadcast stations will now be able to make their plans to participate. SBE will continue to provide information to our members to assist in their preparation,” said SBE President, Vinny Lopez, CEV, CBNT.

The duration may last up to three-and-a-half minutes. The alert enables the president to break into regular broadcasts and address the American public during emergencies.

Similar to local EAS tests that are already conducted frequently, the nationwide test will include broadcast radio and TV stations, cable networks, satellite radio and television services and wireline video service providers across the US,  Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa. The nation and its territories are divided into 550 EAS areas.

On 11/9 those carriers will transmit the message audio message: “This is a test.” The audio message will be the same for both radio and television. All will be required to participate. The test is intended to identify and work the bugs out of the system.

“A national test of our Emergency Alert System, with the vital communications support and involvement of participants, is a step towards ensuring that the alert and warning community is prepared to deliver critical information that can help save lives and protect property,” said Damon Penn, FEMA’s Assistant Administrator of National Continuity Programs. “Because there has never been an activation of the Emergency Alert System on a national level, FEMA views this test as an excellent opportunity to assess the readiness and effectiveness of the current system.  It is important to remember that this is not a pass or fail test, but a chance to establish a baseline for making incremental improvements to the Emergency Alert System with ongoing and future testing.  It is also important to remember that the Emergency Alert System is one of many tools in our communications toolbox, and we will continue to work on additional channels that can be a lifeline of information for people during an emergency.”

A limited-area test was done in Alaska in January of 2010, with 104 radio stations and 26 TV stations participating. There were points of failure involving audio levels and improperly functioning encoders and decoders. That the hardware is not configured to a single standard complicates matters.

EAS participants are also under the September deadline to implement the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) data format that will standardize the alerts issued by various federal agencies. The protocol is said to be much more complex than regular EAS transmission, and the FCC may extend that deadline. After the first test in November, weekly or monthly tests are likely to become routine, according to the FCC.

RBR-TVBR observation: We assume there will be a good deal of warning given before the test, as this is longer than what most folks are used to and will be on every media outlet in the nation. As many times as the announcement says it’s a test, there are those that may tune in between those words and get panicked. The whole system may remind some of the days of CONELRAD, but this time with much higher technology at play.