The list of Emergency Alert System monitoring sources has grown by two after the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved the use of two free preview channels on the SiriusXM network as alternate monitoring assignments for national alerts. The move means that local radio stations or emergency management agencies can monitor Sirius channel No. 184 or XM channel No. 1 in order to trigger local EAS equipment. The decision is based on what IPAWS division director Antwane Johnson said has been the “on-going relationship” between the satellite radio company and FEMA.
SiriusXM became part of the Emergency Alert System in 2005 when FEMA installed equipment at XM Radio’s Washington, DC studios, creating a Primary Entry Point or “PEP” station. That’s the network of 77 mostly AM stations that have a direct connection to FEMA and act as a primary broadcast source for national EAS messages. “That equipment remains in place to this day,” Johnson pointed out in a letter to the company. In addition to SiriusXM, the government also works with iHeartMedia’s Premiere Networks to relay EAS messages from its satellites.
For FEMA the approval of SiriusXM ensures there’s one more satellite-delivered distribution point for critical disaster or emergency information to broadcasters and directly to listeners. “While all SiriusXM subscribers will receive national EAS messages regardless of what channel they may be listening to at the time an alert is issued, use of the two above described channels will ensure that any national-level EAS message is received and further distributed without regard to whether the radio receiver is currently, or ever was, subscribed to a SiriusXM satellite radio service,” Johnson said.
FEMA is in the midst of a multiyear, multimillion dollar upgrade of its PEP facilities. Last month it unveiled upgraded facilities at iHeartMedia’s “News Radio 700” WLW Cincinnati. The government installed a pod-like remote broadcast facility alongside WLW’s transmitter tower. The fenced-in, shed-like 8-by-20-foot structures include all the things needed to broadcast remotely, including a studio, backup transmitter and generator, as well as facilities for a two-person staff, such as a 60-day supply of food and water, bunks, and an air filtration system. The idea is that it is a broadcast facility that is survivable in case of not only natural disasters like a hurricane, but man-made radiological, biological, or electromagnetic pulse events as well.
FEMA expects to spend about $1.5 million on each of the PEP stations that it upgrades. Roughly one-third of the 77 PEP stations still needed to be hardened, with iHeartMedia news-talk KOA Denver (850) said to be near the top of the list of stations to go next.