It’s Broke; Stop Trying to Fix It
I believe EAS as we
know it should be removed from the public broadcast arena. It is
nonfunctional and gives the public and government a false sense of
shown at the base of the WLS(AM) tower.
As Frank McCoy
pointed out in a recent commentary (“Take EAS Back to the Drawing
Board,” radioworld.com, keyword McCoy), the “spoofing”
vulnerabilities run even deeper than have been reported. A low-power
transmitter can be linked into a Local Primary entry point to open
the gate with the Emergency Action Notification header code, deliver
an audio message and lock up an operational area for hours. We saw
that in June 2007 when the Federal Emergency Management Agency
conducted a closed-circuit test that leaked to air via the Illinois
Emergency Operations Center.
I was Illinois state
EAS chair at the time. A day after the erroneous test, I received a
call from the state of Missouri EOC because an unattended station was
still linked to its monitor assignment. The leaked test had included
the EAN header but had then been aborted; thus, no audio or
end-of-message data. Bad choice. The EAN header by itself provides
for an immediate takeover yet carries no time-out code.
It’s one thing to
send a distorted message. It would be a whole other thing to repeat
WGN audio over WLS!
Too many silos
continue to dump millions into an AM emergency backbone that has a
diminishing number of listeners and an aging base of receivers.
alert would require immediate alarm yet not be carried by CNN, CNBC,
the Internet and general news reporting agencies? The concept has
aged out. We have been awaiting a presidential message, over an
untested system, since 1951.
I served on the board of the Primary
Entry Point Advisory Committee, a
White House representative asked when the last end-to-end test had
been done. An uncomfortable question; we could report only polling
tests, there had never been an end-to-end test. That was 2003. It
took another eight years and a lot of conversations to get to the
nationwide test of November 2011. And that flawed test showed how
ill-prepared the system is.
operate in a silo fashion. In my experience, alert center folks don’t
communicate with FEMA folks; White House communications people don’t
communicate with FEMA planners. EAS responsibilities span some nine
federal agencies, give or take, creating a snake without a head. NOAA
Weather Radio is an excellent, paid-for solution, but it is another
silo without a link to the Federal Alert Center.
EAS won’t work
unless an EAS czar is appointed to coordinate the overall system; and
that’s not going to happen.
At the end of my
tour as state chair, I would tell people at the station level to do
only what was required and no more, because EAS is driven by a series
of presidential executive orders, which by nature are open-ended
statements subject to interpretation.
What is required?
Conduct weekly tests, initiated at the station level
(radio/TV/cable), data burst only. … Monitor two assigned stations
for the statewide monthly test, with audio message, and relay a
monthly test from the state entry point. … Keep a record of tests
sent and received. … Post the state plan. …. Be at the ready to
air a presidential alert.
required; anything after that is “voluntary participation.”
things, a state plan must be prepared by a volunteer EAS committee.
It’s up to that committee to work out the mechanics to link the
state entry point to a Primary Entry Point station or NPR station
that sources the EAN alert. You have 50 state plans in the works,
developed by volunteers receiving little direction or review.
may recall the six EAS “summits” subsidized by the NAB and
supported by the National Alliance of State Broadcasting
Associations. Most of the discussions ended up going no place. The
FCC sucked in comment after comment; the whole rewrite of Part 11
went full circle. Yet only the Internet component CAP was added; and
the industry spent millions of dollars to add that component.
Otherwise, the system is as it was.
the meantime the delivery system has aged out and terrestrial radio
is no longer in the eye of the public. Best Buy removes radios from
the showroom; car guys pull AM and FM sections out of car audio
systems in favor of WiFi hot spots. The testing now being aired has a
hollow meaning, giving comfort only to regulators.
NOAA Weather Radio is a manned operation that reaches EAS
encoder/decoders at most radio, TV and cable stations. Yet it is not
used beyond weather alerts. In Illinois we did convince NOAA Weather
Radio to carry Amber Alerts. It gets the message to radio/TV/cable
quickly over the analog VHF channel. Not high-tech, no Internet, no
glamour. And it’s not in the FEMA, FCC or FOC silos, so it is not
point is that EAS cannot be fixed and should be closed down. Rely on
cellphone text alerts. If desired, reserve the EAS radio daisy chain
for long-form messages. But the system threads its way over so many
federal agencies that I don’t think it can ever be untangled.
Without routine end-to-end testing its operational readiness is an
unknown. Its power began with President Truman and CONELRAD in 1951,
preparing for an event that never happened. Sixty-two years later we
are still preparing.
The author is
former engineer of WLS(AM) and was for 16 years the state EAS chair
in Illinois. He is now retired.
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