A later than expected release of a technical update to Emergency Alert System (EAS) hardware used by broadcasters has led the Federal Communications Commission to give stations more time to install the software without running afoul of its rules. Stations were to have had the update installed by Friday, Nov. 8. But the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau will give an extra 60 days on the clock, meaning the updates need to be in place by Jan. 7, 2020.
The software update concerns how EAS equipment validates Common Alerting Protocol (CAP)-formatted alerts which are distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency before they are relayed to the public. That validation process requires that a station’s equipment be configured so that any CAP-formatted alert that doesn’t include a valid digital signature is rejected. It does that by looking at the message received and the digital signature created by the certificate included in the alert. The equipment checks to be sure the certificate matches one of the trusted sources stored in the EAS unit. The pressing issue has come into play since FEMA said one of the certificates it has issued for the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), that has been installed in all EAS devices, is set to expire Nov. 8.
Manufacturers of EAS equipment have been pushing out updates to stations, but there is growing concern over the fact that the replacement certificate wasn’t issued until last week (Oct. 28). “This may not provide sufficient time to update all EAS devices,” the FCC said in a public notice issued Tuesday.
Based on what the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau says was the late availability date of the replacement, it now concedes it may leave “insufficient time” for every radio station and other EAS participants to update their emergency alerting equipment. And that will mean some won’t be able to meet their obligation to receive and process CAP-formatted alerts or run the required weekly or monthly tests. Typically that would put a license holder at risk for fines or other sanctions, but in this case the addition 60 days will insulate stations from that risk. The Bureau is also giving stations permission to continue using their EAS equipment even with the outdated information.
Even as some EAS decoders will impact EAS readiness, the good news is that the FCC says over-the-air President-level national EAS messages initiated by Primary Entry Point or “PEP” stations are not affected by the situation. Alerts initiated by state and local emergency management offices and other non-IPAWS sources are also not impacted. And the FCC says Wireless Emergency Alerts are also unaffected by this situation.