The FCC has proposed revisions to its Emergency Alert System (EAS) rules.

The changes are in response to its first nationwide EAS test held on November 9, 2011 and are intended to enhance the reliability, utility and reach of the EAS, so as to provide the public with timely and accurate emergency alerts.

The Commission acknowledges that since conducting the test it has implemented the Internet-based Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) and the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system to standardize and facilitate geographically-oriented alerts and interoperability among devices.  The current proposals are intended as first steps to address vulnerabilities identified in the 2011 test results.

First, the FCC proposes that all EAS participants be required to have the capability to receive a new National Location Code (000000).  The test had used a location code for Washington DC (where the test originated) but many EAS units rejected it as outside the area that triggered a relevant alert.  The proposal is intended to remedy this problem by providing a code that will trigger EAS units regardless of location.  The Commission notes that the new code may require the reprogramming of EAS equipment. In instances in which a software patch is unavailable the change could require updating or replacement of a station’s EAS unit.

Next, the Commission proposes requiring all EAS Participants to submit test reports on an electronic form (rather than having a paper option), so as to facilitate compiling and analysis of the 16,000+ expected responses.  The information in the electronic reports that identifies monitoring assignments would be integrated into EAS State Plans.

For television, the Commission plans to specify standards for visual crawls to ensure legibility.  The current rule only requires that a crawl be placed at the top of the screen or where it will not interfere with other video messages.  The Commission proposes to add that it must be positioned so as not to run off the edge of the screen and displayed continuously throughout the duration of an EAS activation, at a speed that can be read by viewers and in a font appropriately sized for legibility.

The Commission further seeks to require (rather than merely recommend, as in the current standard) that video and audio convey the same message.  The Commission notes that visual text is generated automatically from header codes whereas the audio may be recorded by the alert originator.  The requirement would ensure that audio and visual elements of an EAS alert not differ in language or detail while describing the same event.

The Commission seeks input as to the feasibility, costs and details of its proposals and their implementation, all of which could affect broadcasters’ obligations.  Comment dates have not been announced.  A complete copy of the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in EB Docket No. 04-296 is available on the FCC website