For the past two years, officials in cooperation with the FCC and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have worked to make a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) a reality.
In June, FEMA and the FCC announced that the first-ever nationwide EAS test will occur Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. EST.
The EAS is a network of radio, television, cable and satellite providers (formally known as EAS participants) across the country that ensures the system is at a constant state of readiness for the president of the United States to communicate to the public during a national emergency.
Although the national EAS has never been activated for an actual emergency or test, the NOAA and state and local alerting authorities use the system daily to provide area alerts and warnings.
As the lead, FEMA is charged with maintaining and operating the national-level EAS as part of the Primary Entry Point Station program, which includes specially designated broadcast stations that transmit a federal message. The FCC sets policy through an EAS rulemaking process, provides testing and exercising requirements, and ensures EAS participant compliance.
The first Alaska EAS test used a live-code emergency action notification and proved that the national EAS was functional but identified necessary improvements. The next Alaska EAS test the following year proved a success and reinforced the idea that continued EAS testing and exercising improves the system.
“Alaska testing was an important milestone for testing on a national level,” said Antwane Johnson, director of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), who led the first Alaska test. “Through the partnerships fostered with the Alaska Broadcasters Association and Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, we were able to see how integral technical improvements are to improve the system at all levels.”
After the Alaska EAS tests, IPAWS replicated efforts in several U.S. territories known for their geographic vulnerabilities to frequent hurricanes, including the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
“As part of the nationwide EAS test program, we focused on rebuilding the EAS in areas that see an increased need for activations of the system by alerting authorities,” said Manny Centeno, FEMA IPAWS program manager.
Johnson, Centeno, IPAWS Deputy Director Wade Witmer and the IPAWS team have also used this model more recently in a coordinated statewide Nevada EAS test that occurred on Sept. 26. While these tests have proved successful, they show a snapshot of what can be expected in a nationwide EAS test.
“It’s important to remember that this is the first test. The Nov. 9 test should provide us with an accurate snapshot on where we are as a nation so we can improve the EAS incrementally,” Witmer said. “We are confident that the level of awareness industry has produced in cooperation with the federal government will assist us in reaching that goal.”
Frequent communication in preparations and expectations to the EAS community has been at the heart of IPAWS nationwide EAS test outreach. To date, the program has conducted several EAS virtual roundtables and webinars with the FCC, NOAA and industry leaders. During these Web events, discussions focused on sharing technical best practices with participants as well as receiving ideas for shaping broad-based EAS awareness and education to the public.
These discussions were further influenced in A National Dialogue on the Emergency Alert System website where broadcasters, cable and satellite, and emergency manager participants were invited to offer ideas across several topics, including EAS audio quality, monitoring, origination and public education. IPAWS then used the ideas for two documents — an EAS Best Practices Guide and a Nationwide EAS Test Informational Toolkit.
“Providing information that not only assists EAS participants in preparing for the test, but allows state and local governments to communicate with the public, is essential for a continued dialog on EAS as an important alert and warning tool,” Johnson said. “We could not have produced this level of awareness without the strong support of industry and emergency management association partners.”
It is important to note that the nationwide EAS test will test only the legacy EAS and not the Common Alerting Protocol components.
IPAWS accepts questions and comments from the public at firstname.lastname@example.org.