Broadcasters can circle Wednesday, August 7 on the calendar. That’s the date the Federal Emergency Management Agency has selected for the next national test of the Emergency Alert System. That’s earlier than the traditional September date that has been chosen by FEMA in the past. By moving it up there may be a better chance the test won’t encounter the sort of delay it faced last year when Hurricane Florence forced the national EAS test to be rescheduled. If a similar situation does occur this year, FEMA has scheduled August 21 as the backup date for the national test. Regardless of the date, the 2019 test will again be at 2:20pm ET and the test message will use the National Periodic Test event code and be geo-targeted using the All-US (000000) geocode.

“As in past years the national EAS test message will look and sound very much like the regular Required Monthly Test messages broadcast every month by all EAS Participants, broadcast radio and television, cable, wireline service providers, and direct broadcast satellite service providers,” said FEMA’s Alfred Kenyon in a letter alerting the Federal Communications Commission of its plans.

The 2019 test will put a focus on ability of the FEMA designated Primary Entry Point (PEP) facilities to originate the alert. “The intent of conducting the test in this fashion is to determine the capability of the EAS to deliver messages to the public in event that dissemination via internet is not available,” Kenyon explained.

FEMA is in the midst of a multiyear, multimillion dollar upgrade of its PEP facilities. That has included adding PEP stations and solidifying their facilities in case of a disaster. PEP stations are 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. FEMA says the modernization and expansion has improved PEP’s direct coverage from 67% of the U.S. population in 2009 to more than 90% today.

As an example of the site improvements FEMA has done, last year it unveiled upgraded facilities at iHeartMedia’s “News Radio 700” WLW Cincinnati. There 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 the event 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, according to some estimates.