The FCC has often noted the importance of the national Emergency Alert System (“EAS”) while taking enforcement action against broadcast stations whose EAS equipment is not functioning or who otherwise fail to transmit required EAS messages. In a slightly atypical case, the FCC this month issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture and Order (“NAL”) for $8,000 against the licensee of an FM radio station in Puerto Rico because, even though the station’s EAS equipment was fully operational, the manner of installation made it incapable of broadcasting the required EAS tests automatically.
In April 2012, agents from the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau inspected the station’s main studio and discovered that the EAS equipment was installed in such a way that it was not able to automatically interrupt programming to transmit an EAS message. Section 11.35 of the FCC’s Rules requires that all broadcast stations have EAS equipment that is fully operational so that the monitoring and transmitting functions are available when the station is in operation. The Rules further require that broadcast stations be able to receive EAS messages, interrupt on-air programming, and transmit required EAS messages. When a facility is unattended, automatic systems must be in place to perform these functions. During the inspection, the station’s director admitted that the EAS equipment was not capable of transmitting an EAS message without someone manually reducing the on-air programming volume. He further admitted that the equipment had been in this condition since at least September 2011, if not earlier.
The station broadcast programming 24 hours a day, but was only staffed from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm. As a result, when the station was unattended, it could not interrupt programming to transmit EAS messages. The base forfeiture for failing to maintain operational EAS equipment is $8,000, which the FCC thought was appropriate in this case. The FCC also directed the licensee to submit a written statement indicating that the EAS equipment is now fully operational at all times, particularly when unattended, and otherwise in full compliance with the FCC’s rules.