On September 30, 2010, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officially adopted Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) as the new standard for emergency alert system (EAS) messages. CAP is designed to enable delivery of EAS messages in different formats (e.g., text, audio and video) via different means (e.g., broadcast, cable, satellite and other networks).

Pursuant to an FCC Second Report and Order [1] (the Order) released on July 12, 2007, broadcasters, multichannel video programming distributers and satellite radio providers (EAS participants) must be able to accept CAP-based alerts 180-days after FEMA's adoption of CAP (i.e., by March 29, 2011).[2] There have been unofficial reports that the FCC may delay this deadline, but, as of the publication of this alert, the 180 day requirement remains. Thus, EAS participants should work with their EAS equipment vendors to determine what is necessary to ensure that their EAS equipment can accept CAP-based alerts by March 29, 2011. We will circulate another client alert if this deadline is extended.

The Order also expanded the type of EAS alerts that broadcasters must transmit. Currently, EAS participants are only required to accept and transmit EAS alerts that are originated by the president. EAS participants can also, on a voluntary basis, transmit EAS alerts from state, local or other federal agencies. The Order, for the first time, requires EAS participants to accept and transmit state and local EAS alerts that are originated by state governors or their designee, or by FEMA on behalf of such state governor.[3] This requirement is not effective until a state has submitted a CAP-based plan to the FCC and the FCC has approved such plan.

Finally, the FCC contemplates that FEMA will improve upon the existing EAS system and create next generation distribution systems in the future. Thus, the Order contains a catch-all provision that requires EAS participants to configure their networks to receive CAP-formatted alerts delivered pursuant to any future EAS delivery system within 180 days after FEMA announces the technical standards for such next generation EAS delivery system.

If you would like any additional information, please contact the individuals listed below or the Wiley Rein attorney who regularly handles your FCC matters.