W&G Regulatory Advisory: FCC Releases Order Regarding the Emergency Alert System’s Common Alert Protocol

January 11, 2012

On January 10, 2012, the Commission released a Fifth Report and Order in its ongoing Emergency Alert System (“EAS”) proceeding.  This Order codifies in detail an already-existing obligation for EAS participants to be able to receive messages using the new Common Alert Protocol (“CAP”).

By way of background, the current EAS is a hierarchical system using something called the EAS Protocol, sometimes also known as the Specific Area Message Encoding (“SAME”) protocol.  In 2007, the Commission issued rules designed to lead to a next generation EAS, which included a requirement that Participants (broadcasters and cable systems) be capable of receiving CAP-formatted messages once FEMA published the CAP standard.  Since then, FEMA released the standard; the FCC engaged in a variety of back-and-forth with respect to required changes to the rules; and—perhaps most importantly—the Commission set a deadline of June 30, 2012 for participants to be able to receive CAP-encoded messages.

This Order essentially codifies and details the general obligation to receive and render CAP-formatted messages.  More specifically:

 · At least for the time being, CAP-formatted messages are to be converted into and broadcast—and reencoded—in the SAME format.

 · Thus, EAS Participants must be able to convert CAP-formatted EAS messages into SAME format, following the procedures for such conversion set forth in the EAS-CAP Industry Group’s (“ECIG’s”) Implementation Guide—except for text to speech and “gubernatorial CAP messages.”  Much equipment has already been certified as meeting this standard, and manufacturers are prohibited from marketing non-compliant equipment.

· EAS Participants must also monitor FEMA’s “IPAWS” system for federal CAP-formatted alert messages using whatever interface technology is appropriate (as opposed to having to monitor specific RSS feeds).

· EAS Participants may use intermediary (e.g., stand-alone) devices to meet their CAP-related obligations, provided that such configurations meet with applicable certification requirements, and that such devices render visual displays contained in CAP-formatted “enhanced text” by June 30, 2015.

· The Commission made a variety of conforming changes to its equipment rules, and adopted streamlined procedures for equipment certification that take into account standards and testing procedures adopted by FEMA.

 · The Commission eliminated the requirement that EAS Participants receive and transmit CAP-formatted messages initiated by state governors.  The Commission also streamlined the rules governing the processing of Emergency Action Notifications (EAN) and eliminated as unnecessary several provisions in Part 11, such as the Emergency Action Termination (EAT) event code and the Non-Participating National (NN) status.

For more information regarding the Commission’s Order, please contact John Nakahata ((202) 730-1320 or jnakahata@wiltshiregrannis.com) or Mike Nilsson ((202) 730-1334 or mnilsson@wiltshiregrannis.com).

This advisory is not intended to convey legal advice.  It is circulated as a convenience and is not intended to reflect or create an attorney-client relationship as to its subject matter.

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