Earlier this year, the FCC decided not to adopt a proposal that would have required at least one broadcast station in each community to provide emergency alerts to local listeners who do not speak English. The FCC decision deciding to not mandate multilingual EAS alerts is here, and our article on the initial proposal is here. Many issues were raised as to how any mandate could be implemented as emergency alerts, by their very nature, are usually unplanned. How can a station plan a way to translate messages into different languages for an eventuality that would rarely if ever occur? How would stations within a market share such responsibilities? In how many different languages would messages need to be transmitted? Instead of adopting any mandate, the FCC instead required that State Emergency Communications Committees (SECCs) gather information about whether stations already provide multilingual alerts and any plans that they have for providing such information in the future, along with information about the demographics in their state of groups needing emergency information in languages other than English. The FCC’s requirement was published in the Federal Register this week, giving SECCs a year, until November 3, 2017, to gather this information.
After gathering the data from participants, SECCs have until May 3, 2018 to integrate this information into their state EAS plans and file those plans with the FCC. Beyond these requirements, the FCC is not requiring any specific obligations to provide multilingual EAS alert content. EAS participants may conclude that no specific actions are warranted or feasible in their area for any number of reasons. On the other hand, the FCC states that the mere process of examining this issue in coordination with state and local emergency authorities may lead to implementation of mechanisms that would expand access to EAS alert content. Note also that the FCC itself could later revisit the issue. In particular, there is an appeal pending at the US Court of Appeals asking that the Commission be forced to reverse its decision not to impose specific obligations on stations to provide multilingual EAS alerts. So be prepared for the inquiries from your SECC, and watch for more developments in this area.