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PBS Stations Testing Mobile Emergency Alert System

PBS has announced that four public stations around the country are participating in a pilot project to delivery emergency alert information over mobile digital TV signals.

The Mobile Emergency Alert System (M-EAS) pilot project will test the delivery of video, maps, photos, audio and text to mobile devices using mobile DTV signals. The project is being funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and LG Electronics.

The four participating PBS stations are: WGBH Boston, Vegas PBS (KLVX) in Las Vegas, and Alabama Public Television stations WBIQ (Birmingham) and WAIQ (Montgomery).

Mobile emergency alert systems using broadcast signals played an important role in delivering emergency information in Japan during the tsunami and earthquake earlier this year when cellular systems were not working.

The participants in the pilot project believe that a system based on U.S. ATSC standards will ultimately be an important tool for delivering information during disasters when cell phone systems might not work.

While public broadcasters are initially testing the system, the M-EAS system is designed to be used by both commercial and public over the air broadcasters.

"If we're successful, the results of the pilot will help usher in a new era of mobile alerting systems," noted said Dr. Jong Kim, president of Zenith R&D Lab, the U.S. research and development subsidiary of LG Electronics. "They will be extremely valuable to federal, state and local emergency management agencies and the publics they serve and will extend the community service role of public and commercial broadcasters alike. We welcome the leadership of PBS stations to serve as the ‘test bed' for these rich-media emergency transmissions."

"With the Mobile EAS service, we'll be able to send everything from AMBER alert photos to detailed maps with escape routes, live video, and extensive information that viewers will find invaluable in a disaster," added John McCoskey, CTO at PBS, in a statement. "This goes way beyond just a text message on a congested cell phone network. It's harnessing the power of ‘one-to-many' transmissions from a TV broadcaster to the viewing audience."

The Mobile EAS project will evaluate system's capabilities for delivering multimedia alerts (utilizing video, audio, text, and graphics) to cellphones, tablets, laptops, netbooks, and in-car navigation systems. It is hoped that the mobile DTV broadcast signals will provide a more reliable way of delivering emergency information than traditional cellular systems which are often knocked out by high traffic and power outages during a disaster.

Utilizing terrestrial "over the air" broadcast TV transmissions, rather than cell phone systems, the M-EAS requires no additional spectrum. Standard equipment used to upgrade stations for transmission of Mobile DTV signals will be utilized.

The project will evaluate a number of factors, including feasibility of the system, technologies, implementation costs, cost-sharing possibilities, the ease of using such a system compared to other technologies, acceptance by both the general public and emergency messaging managers, and expectations of future needs and system growth.

As part of the project, LG Electronics and its U.S. R&D subsidiary, Zenith will develop handheld mobile DTV devices to receive the new alerts and will provide funding for the project.

Harris Broadcast and Roundbox also are providing key components and technology for the project. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is providing matching grants to local public television stations for mobile DTV broadcasting equipment and grant funding to assist PBS with its participation in the project.