On July 24, 2017, the FCC released a Public Notice announcing a nationwide Emergency Alert System (“EAS”) test on September 27, 2017, and reminded EAS Participants, which includes all cable television systems, TV stations, radio stations and low power TV stations, of the need to utilize the EAS Test Reporting System (“ETRS”) and meet a number of additional requirements.

Last September the FCC conducted the first EAS test since 2011, in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”). The FCC required EAS Participants to meet a number of requirements prior to the nationwide test. Specifically, the FCC introduced ETRS, which required EAS Participants to file ETRS Form One prior to the nationwide test, and ETRS Forms Two and Three after the nationwide test. Since the ETRS was new last year, there was considerable uncertainty among EAS Participants about its requirements. Hopefully now, with a year of experience with the ETRS system, compliance with the EAS test reporting requirements will be much less burdensome.

September 27, 2017 Nationwide Test

In its Public Notice, the FCC states that the 2017 nationwide EAS test “will assess the reliability and effectiveness of the EAS, with a particular emphasis on testing FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, the integrated gateway through which common alerting protocol-based (“CAP-based”) EAS alerts are disseminated to EAS Participants.” CAP is an Internet-based system that allows for more robust messaging, including audio and video alerts, and links to other sources of information about emergency information, instead of the simple text-based alert codes that are generated by the current system. Because the nationwide EAS test is CAP-based, the alert will be transmitted in English and Spanish and “include both audio and the text of the test message, which can be used to populate an accessible video crawl.”

Requirements for EAS Participants

EAS Participants must complete several action items related to the September 27, 2017 nationwide EAS test: First, EAS Participants must file ETRS Form One by August 28, 2017. Last year EAS Participants should have registered with ETRS and completed Form One, which required EAS Participants to supply identifying and background information. This year EAS Participants will need to renew their identifying information in Form One, and file an additional Form One for any new facilities. According to the Public Notice, each EAS Participant should file a separate copy of Form One for each of its EAS decoders, EAS encoders, and units combining such decoder and encoder functions.

Then, after the nationwide EAS test is conducted on September 27, 2017, all EAS Participants will be required to complete ETRS Form Two and ETRS Form Three. Form Two is considered the “day of test reporting” form and must be submitted within 24 hours of the September 27 nationwide EAS test. Form Three is considered the “detailed test reporting” form and must be submitted to the FCC within 45 days following the September 27 nationwide EAS test.

The Public Notice also specifies several additional requirements for EAS Participants prior to the nationwide EAS Test. Among the most important of these requirements is that EAS Participants must have a copy of the current EAS Operating Handbook at the normal duty positions or EAS equipment locations that is immediately available to operators. Just two weeks ago the FCC proposed a forfeiture of $66,000 against an Alaskan broadcaster for violating the FCC’s EAS rules, including the broadcaster’s failure to have a copy of the EAS Operating Handbook. The FCC recently released a new EAS Operating Handbook, and it is critical that EAS Participants have updated copies of the handbook in the appropriate locations.

We strongly advise EAS Participants to complete Form One as soon as possible to insure any issues are resolved prior to the August 28 mandatory filing date. We also encourage EAS Participants to inspect all EAS-related equipment to confirm that the equipment is operating properly and the Handbook present prior to the September 27 nationwide EAS test.