As the summer winds down and the weather cools off, action around the Emergency Alert System (“EAS”) is heating up. Hopefully by now, if you are an EAS participant, which includes all cable television systems, radio stations, and both full and low power TV stations, you have completed your EAS Test Registration System (“ETRS”) Form One. As we previously advised, all EAS Participants were required to complete and submit a Form One for all applicable EAS systems by August 26, 2016. Fortunately, EAS Participants may update or correct any errors in their initial Form One filings until September 26, 2016. However, in addition to reviewing their initial Form One filings for accuracy and completeness, EAS Participants have a number of other EAS-related events occurring over the next month that require attention and readiness.
Nationwide EAS Test
The FCC released a public notice to officially announce that, in connection with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”), the FCC will conduct a nationwide EAS test on September 28, 2016. The public notice explains that the nationwide test will assess the reliability and effectiveness of the EAS, with a particular emphasis on testing FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (“IPAWS”), the gateway through which EAS alerts are disseminated to EAS Participants. The FCC describes the nationwide test as “diagnostic in nature” to allow the FCC and FEMA to determine how well the nationwide EAS works and what improvements needs to be made. Importantly, non-compliant equipment and software in operation during the September 28, 2016 nationwide test will be identified by the FCC through the submission of ETRS Forms Two and Three, which could potentially result in FCC enforcement actions.
It is important that EAS Participants prepare for the nationwide test by ensuring that their EAS equipment and EAS software is compliant with the FCC’s Part 11 EAS rules, which are described in the FCC’s 2015 Sixth Report and Order. Additionally, in a July 2016 public notice, the FCC describes a number of steps it encourages EAS Participants to take prior to September 28th to ensure readiness for the nationwide EAS test. Among the FCC’s suggestions is to ensure that a copy of the EAS Operating Handbook is immediately available to EAS operators at normal duty positions or EAS equipment locations. Because the FCC just released the 2016 EAS Operating Handbook on August 19, 2016, we encourage all EAS Participants to heed the FCC’s suggestion and verify that the new 2016 EAS Operating Handbook is present and immediately available to EAS operators at normal duty positions or EAS equipment locations for the September 28th nationwide test.
Form Two & Form Three
Once the nationwide EAS test is conducted on September 28, 2016, the FCC requires all EAS Participants to complete the next couple of steps in the ETRS reporting system, ETRS Form Two and ETRS Form Three. The purpose and requirements attendant to each form are slightly different. The FCC released a public notice in April 2016 that gives a step-by-step overview of the filing requirements associated with each form.
Form Two is considered the “day of test reporting” form. EAS Participants must submit Form Two within 24 hours of the nationwide EAS test. Thankfully, Form Two is far less labor intensive than Form One. Form Two is prepopulated with the Form One information provided by the EAS Participant, and only prompts EAS Participants to report whether they received and retransmitted the nationwide EAS test message. More detailed information regarding how the nationwide EAS test message was handled by the EAS Participant and its equipment is required in Form Three.
Form Three is considered the “detailed test reporting” form. Form Three must be submitted to the FCC within 45 days following the nationwide EAS test on September 28, 2016. Form Three requires EAS Participants to provide the FCC with detailed information regarding two components of the EAS nationwide test message: receipt of the message and retransmission of the message. With regards to receipt of the test message, EAS Participants will need to provide information that includes the source of the EAS message, the date and time at which the facility received the nationwide EAS test message, and the time zone in which the facility is located. EAS Participants will then be prompted to indicate any complications they experienced in receiving the EAS test message. Next, EAS Participants will be required to complete a similar “message retransmission” section of Form Three. If an EAS Participant confirmed their facility retransmitted the nationwide EAS test message in Form Two, the EAS Participant must indicate any complications that they experienced in retransmitting the message. For both the receipt section, and the retransmission section, Form Three will allow EAS Participants to include narrative descriptions of any complications.
In its 2015 Sixth Report and Order, the FCC emphasized the need for a functioning and robust nationwide EAS system. As the FCC has placed a stronger emphasis on EAS, it is important that EAS Participants place a stronger emphasis on EAS compliance. If EAS Participants fail to comply with the requirements in the new EAS world, they could be subject to an FCC enforcement action. Therefore, we strongly advise all EAS Participants to ensure readiness for the nationwide EAS test on September 28, 2016.