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Emergency Alert System and Alaska

by: Todd Mitchell

January 21, 2010

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Mark Twain once said, "The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco."  Well, for me, the coldest winter week I ever saw in DC was the one I spent in Juneau, Alaska, as I am recently back from representing the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) in the first-ever "live" Presidential test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS), the nation's public warning system.  Don't get me wrong, it was frigid in Juneau - with its steady cold wind sweeping through the mountains surrounding the small town and state capitol.  Sunrise at 8:30 a.m. and sunset at 3:30 p.m. made it difficult to adjust, but the friendly residents were quick to notice newcomers and helped make my stay enjoyable.

This historic, statewide exercise was a result of joint planning efforts by FEMA, FCC, Alaska's Division of Homeland Security, and Alaska's Broadcaster's Association, in conjunction with other local, state, and federal emergency management partners.  At 10:00 a.m. Alaska time, 2:00 p.m., EST, on Wednesday, January 6, my colleague Justin Bickford of DoD and I were sitting atop the Juneau Public Library parking garage monitoring over-the-air broadcast signals for 18 radio stations and three television stations to determine the performance of the system as it was being tested in Juneau.  Monitors from various local, state and federal agencies were stationed around the state and had similar responsibilities, with the exercise leaders in Anchorage.  Other FCC monitors included PSHSB's Shawn Lapinski, and Enforcement Bureau's Marlene Windel and David Charlton who were in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Kenai, respectively.

The data collected from the exercise is being evaluated by those entities referenced above to determine how well the EAS worked during the test, where some of the problems may be and to help make improvements to the nation's alerting system.  Overall, this will help keep the American public informed and better able to take appropriate actions to protect themselves and their families in times of crisis.  The exercise was well-worth the effort.

Then came the fun part.  Two days, four cancelled flights, and one bear of an ice storm after my original departure date, I arrived at Reagan National.  If anyone would like to know the sleeping conditions, and how the food is at Juneau International Airport, please contact me.  

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