FCC: Presidential emergency alerts to be tested

Monday - 2/7/2011, 11:17am EST

Lisa Fowlkes, Deputy Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, FCC

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

Everybody has heard the national Emergency Alert System (EAS). Those familiar "duck calls" that reassure listeners "THIS is a test...this is ONLY a test..."

The FCC is planning an upgrade to the tests by including presidential announcements in the system.

Lisa Fowlkes, deputy chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau of the FCC, explained to the Federal Drive the Presidential Alert isn't new.

"The primary goal is to provide the President with a mechanism to communicate with the American public during times of national emergency," said Fowlkes. The change, she said, is that prior to last week's order there was no rule in place to call for or allow a test from top to bottom.

Fowlkes said, "There's never been a test from top to bottom where it's issued by FEMA and it goes straight down to all the different levels of EAS to the American public. So this is a way for us to glean, okay, if there were an actual emergency and the federal government needed to activate the Presidential EAS, making sure that it actually works the way it's designed to."

Now that there's a rule in place, the next challenges are going to be working with all the stakeholders on timing of the test and to reach out to the public so they understand it's a test and not a real emergency, Fowlkes said.

"We want to make sure that it works the way it's designed to," Fowlkes said. "If there are things that work well, great. If there are things that don't work well, we can work with EAS participants and with state and local governments as well as our federal partners to correct or improve what doesn't work."

At the same time, said Fowlkes, the FCC is looking at how wireless broadband could also enhance the EAS as part of a recommendation that was in the FCC's National Broadband Plan from last year.

The idea is to leverage broadband and the Internet for emergency alerting with the "Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) being developed by FEMA and the wireless industry."

CMAS would allow three kinds of text messaging or wireless alert to be sent, said Fowlkes:

  • Presidential Alerts - "Which would be the same as what the president might issue or FEMA might issue through the EAS system,
  • Imminent Threat Alerts - Which Fowlkes said would warn when "there's a hurricane coming or a tornado coming," and then the
  • Child Abduction Emergency/AMBER Alerts - Alerts related to missing or endangered children due to an abduction or runaway situation.

Fowlkes said the CMAS is slated to begin deployment in April 2012.