EAS Test Reveals Deficits

The fallout, as it were, from the FCC's first national test Wednesday appears to be that it worked in most areas of the country, but not in others.

Anecdotal reports had the 2 p.m. alert airing on some stations, but not on others, and of varying lengths.

"The Nationwide EAS Test served the purpose for which it was intended," said the FCC in a statement, "to identify gaps and generate a comprehensive set of data to help strengthen our ability to communicate during real emergencies. Based on preliminary data, large regions of the country received the test but some areas did not. We are currently in the process of collecting and analyzing data, and will reach a conclusion when that process is complete."

The National Association of Broadcasters agreed that the test revealed some deficits. "Our initial feedback is that most radio and television stations ran the Nationwide EAS test successfully, although some isolated glitches may have occurred," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. "We look forward to continuing to work with our federal partners to diagnose and improve the EAS system."

While there were some reports that the test was not a success, since the test was meant to reveal problems, the fact that it did does not necessarily equate with failure. Wharton pointed out that some glitches should be expected with a test of some 15,000 broadcast outlets -- radio and TV. "It was certainly not a failure," he said.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association had warned that there could be issues with the alert given that the FCC had moved its deadline for adopting a FEMA data protocol for passing through such alerts -- NCTA had asked the test to be delayed. The FCC chose to proceed, while shortening the test from 3 minutes to 30 seconds.

"We are in the process of gathering feedback from our member companies about today's first-ever test of the national Emergency Alert System (EAS)," said NCTA in a statement. "We do know that in many places, the Emergency Alert Notification flowed through to viewers without a hitch. However, we also know that in some places, it did not."

But as with the other participants, NCTA pointed out that the test was meant to find out what might be wrong with the system. "Today's test was designed specifically to identify the gaps among all EAS participants that exist in the current alert system," it said. "In the coming days and weeks, we'll continue to work closely with FEMA and the FCC so that we can collectively identify the specific cable industry gaps and determine how they can be addressed in the future. And we remain committed to implementing the next generation alert system which will be deployed by all EAS participants by June 2012."

It will take the FCC a while to vet the data, an FCC official said. There were more than 30,000 participants, including broadcast stations, cable operators and other MVPDs, and they have 45 days to respond.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.