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FCC: EAS Test Will Help Refine Second-Language Alerts

When asked by reporters about reports from state EAS coordinators that some of the emergency alerts sent out during last week's national test of the EAS system did not go through in Spanish, Admiral David Simpson, chief of the FCC's Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau, said that illustrated the value of the test.

The FCC was conducting the test in coordination with FEMA, with a focus on FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) that disseminates the alerts to the various participants.

"That's exactly the kind of thing we wanted to test," Simpson told reporters following the test. "We believe this will give us the data necessary to refine the transmission of that second-language version of the same alert."

Asked whether he thought the test was more successful than one in 2011, Simpson said it was hard to compare given the work it took to achieve that first test. But he did say that last week's test had "built upon" that foundation. "We were in a better place to capture results, not just from broadcasters themselves but from disability rights organizations as well as communities in general."

Related: FCC Denies MMTC Request to Change EAS Rules

He said if it was better, it was only because the previous test had laid the table for them.

Simpson said that over 22,000 stations had reported back with info on the test (as required), and the FCC was massaging the data along with FEMA, stakeholders and state commissions. 

IPAWS delivers alerts to multiple platforms (TV, radio, cellphones, computers, home phones and electronic billboards).

It allows emergency authorities to write their own messages, authenticates them and delivers them to the various platforms.

Last week's test did not include mobile wireless alerts, but at the same FCC meeting where Simpson talked about the test the day before, the commission voted to adopt new requirements for wireless emergency alerts (WEAs), including requiring the support of Spanish-language alerts, as well as boosting the maximum length of text messages.

The FCC also allows for the inclusion of some multimedia as data included in the alerts, as well as a timeline for transitioning from "it's allowable" to "you must support it," Simpson said. That multimedia would include thumbnail images and hazard symbols.

And in an emergency information related note, the FCC on Sept. 30 reminded broadcasters, cable operators and other video distributors of their obligation to make televised emergency information--say on storms or school closings--accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired.

The FCC also advised them on how to make it more accessible to those with cognitive disabilities, although there is no requirement to do so. That includes avoiding "abbreviations, idioms, technical vocabulary, complicated and lengthy sentences, and figurative language" and avoiding scrolling unrelated information during the broadcast of emergency information.