Alerts & Notifications

Emergency Alert System's Complex Vulnerability Issues

In comments to the FCC, broadcasters say addressing the fake EAS alert hurt and fixing the problem is complex.

by Rick Wimberly / December 9, 2014

The potential for mischief with the Emergency Alert System (EAS) is substantial, says the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). The NAB was responding to a request by the FCC to comment on recent improper activations of the EAS. The NAB said "technical challenges involved in resolving this program are complex."

The incident at issue occurred in late October when the syndicated Bobby Bones radio show activated the EAS during a skit complaining about an emergency alert interrupting a football game broadcast the night before. The fake emergency alert was then broadcast by a number of stations down the daisy chain line from the Bobby Bones studios.

Among other things, the FCC asked about the consequences of improper alerts. The Broadcast Warning Working Group (BWWG), a coalition of state EAS committee members, broadcasters and other subject-matter experts, said such alerts diminish the commitment of EAS participants. BWWG said broadcasters consider the EAS part of their obligation to their audiences, but consider the EAS "as a detriment to their on-air operations or an excessive expenditure of their own resources."

BWWG says broadcasters aren't the only ones who suffer from phony EAS alerts. Public safety and local government do too, says BWWG. It cited a burden on 911 and "overall erosion of confidence in the use and support of EAS." BWWG says, "This cannot be alloyed lest EAS lose support of the very people at the local level who should be using it at every opportunity as a core emergency response resource."

BWWG wants the FCC to look beyond the fake alert issue "if the EAS is to survive as a viable public warning resource."

More testing would help, points out Monroe Electronics. The EAS equipment provider said in its response to the FCC that the new EAS code at issue has been relatively untested in a live operational environment. "While these various issues are unfortunate, and have led to some public concern, we would be mindful that many of these issues are the result of what is effectively a 'shaking out' of a rather diverse and complex EAS system." (You can find comments from Monroe and other respondents here.)

To us, the vitality of the EAS is not in question. However, it is a complex system that has undergone quite a few changes in the last few years. The EAS needs serious attention.

Bobby Bones' syndicator acknowledged that the EAS tone should not have aired and that they "regret the error.” But whether he meant to or not, he helped provide momentum to the effort to find solutions for a gnawing vulnerability for a critical emergency alert system for the nation.