Federal regulators have said they want to make national testing of the Emergency Alert System more routine and to that end the government has set the date for the next such test. It will be held Wed., Sep. 27 at 2:20pm ET. A back-up date of Oct. 4 has been slated if there’s any need to delay the national test, such as if a hurricane is approaching the U.S.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistant director John Veatch announced the dates in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission on Friday. He said the test will be conducted in the “same matter” as during last year’s national test. That means FEMA will use the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which allows stations to receive test audio from the internet-based Common Alerting Protocol and then measures how well multilingual alerts are sent and received.
A 2017 national test had been expected since last month when the Federal Communications Commission began laying the groundwork. The Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau announced that every station must create a username within the FCC’s Commission Registration System (CORES) to access the 2017 EAS Test Reporting System. The move is designed to integrate the Electronic Test Reporting System, or ETRS—the online portal where broadcasters have submitted data on whether they received the national EAS activation and whether they were able to then pass it down the line—into the FCC’s other databases.
Based on recommendations after last September’s national test, the Bureau said several improvements have been made to ETRS. They include allowing users to punch in a single account to file EAS test results across multiple FCC Registration Numbers (FRNs). The Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau said it will release a public notice next month with more details about how broadcasters and other EAS participants will go about creating the new usernames.
The FCC has labeled last year’s national EAS test “successful,” reporting 94% of participants successfully received the National Periodic Test (NPT) code used for the test or retransmitting the alert, which was a 12% improvement in the success rate compared to the 2011 national activation. Of those that received the test message, 85% successfully retransmitted the alert.
In a report released last December the FCC said more than 21,000 radio and TV stations, cable systems, satellite services and other EAS participants were a part of the test, which was designed to assess the reliability and effectiveness of the EAS. That’s a 26% increase in the number that took part in the prior national test five years earlier.
IPAWS customer support branch chief Al Kenyon tells Inside Radio that by having another national test it will be an opportunity for broadcast and cable operators to confirm that the updates and configuration changes that some discovered they needed last year were successfully completed. Among the issues that FEMA and the FCC will be looking at during the 2017 national test is whether issues that arose last year have been corrected. That includes receiver timing issues arising from how frequently EAS equipment performs a regular check of the IPAWS internet feed. Because most receivers only check every 30 seconds, some stations last year complained they experienced poor quality audio and were not able to deliver the Spanish-language alert because they received the test from an over-the-air broadcast source rather than the high-quality IPAWS audio.
Beyond next generation advances, FEMA has also been beefing up traditional EAS distribution. During the past several years the agency has added 35 Primary Entry Point or “PEP” stations that increase the likelihood local stations would detect the activation through the traditional “daisy chain” station-to-station distribution if IPAWS fails to work properly.