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Making Emergency Alerts and 911 Accessible

by: Jamie Barnett, Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

April 6, 2011

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:54:height=106,width=70]]Emergency alerts and 911 are the two sides of the emergency communications coin.  Alerts warn the public of impending emergencies and 911 gives the public immediate access to emergency services.  It is a primary responsibility of the FCC to ensure that both of these essential services are available on a non-discriminatory basis to U.S. consumers, including the 54 million Americans with disabilities.
To commemorate National Deaf History Month, I would like to take a moment to share some steps that the Commission and the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) are taking to ensure that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing have full access to emergency communications services.
Emergency Alerts
Emergency Alerts are an essential way for the government, whether Federal, State, local or tribal, to warn the public of an impending threat to life or property. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is used by state and local governments to issue several thousand weather-related and other emergency alerts every year, and provides the President with a platform from which to address the nation in the event of a national emergency.  The Commission’s EAS rules require that all televised EAS alerts be provided in visual and aural format.  as well as to make EAS alerts, as well as any other emergency information, accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.  This means that critical information about an emergency must be provided through closed captioning or other visual means.
The EAS is expanding to an Internet-based distribution system and will be adopting a digital format called the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) to structure and distribute EAS alerts in a more robust and dependable manner.  Using CAP, critical information can be provided in text and video formats to ensure that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing will be provided the same information as that which is provided in audio format.
Mobiletelephones, whether cell phones, PDAs or smart phones, are ubiquitous and used interchangeably for texting or for traditional telephone conversations.  Mobile telephone alerts thus offer emergency personnel a highly effective platform to reach the public.  The Commission has taken steps to ensure that alerts over mobile devices will be distributed as fully accessible text messages.  In addition, the Commission’s CMAS rules require that CMAS-enabled telephones must announce those alerts using a unique vibration cadence.
Broadband
High-speed, high-capacity Internet access (“Broadband”) is facilitating new, more effective, fully accessible alerting systems.  For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in collaboration with the FCC, is developing the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which will deliver alerts to the public over communications devices as varied as televisions, radios, mobile devices and highway signs.  Further, the Commission will soon be issuing a Notice of Inquiry on how Broadband will facilitate new alerting models and technologies, such as emergency alerts delivered through social media or over connected platforms such as gaming consoles.  A primary goal of these proceedings will be to ensure that these new technologies benefit the public, including individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.
911 Services
Since the mid-1990s, all 911 emergency call centers, or Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), have been required to provide direct access to text telephone (TTY) users.  Since2009, the Commission has required that Video Relay Service and IP Relay users have access to enhanced 911 (E911) services.  E911 makes it possible for 911 calls, along with number and location information, to be routed to the appropriate PSAP.  Recently, the Commission has taken additional steps to ensure that the deaf and hard of hearing community has full access to 911 services.
First, on December 21, 2010, the Commission released its Next Generation 911 (NG911) Notice of Inquiry (NOI), which asked a number of questions about the deployment of an NG911 network, including the potential for consumers to send text messages, photos, and video to 911 call centers.  Additionally, the NOI includes a section seeking comment on what the Commission can do to ensure that the deaf and hard of hearing community has the ability to make emergency calls in an NG911 environment.
Second, the Commission has established a new Emergency Access Advisory Committee (EAAC) to work on 911 accessibility issues.  PSHSB and the Commission’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) are jointly overseeing the EAAC.   The EAAC is currently conducting a national survey to learn how individuals with disabilities access 911 services now and how they want to access 911 services in the future, for example, by sending pictures, video, and text over the Internet.  The survey will be available until April 24, 2011.  After the survey results are analyzed, the EAAC will develop recommendations for the Commission on ways to ensure access to NG911 services by individuals with disabilities.  For more information about the EAAC and to participate in the survey, visit www.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/EAAC.
Emergency alerts and 911 are the two sides of the emergency communications coin.  Alerts warn the public of impending emergencies and 911 gives the public immediate access to emergency services.  It is a primary responsibility of the FCC to ensure that both of these essential services are available on a non-discriminatory basis to U.S. consumers, including the 54 million Americans with disabilities.
To commemorate National Deaf History Month, I would like to take a moment to share some steps that the Commission and the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) are taking to ensure that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing have full access to emergency communications services.
Emergency Alerts
Emergency Alerts are an essential way for the government, whether Federal, State, local or tribal, to warn the public of an impending threat to life or property. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is used by state and local governments to issue several thousand weather-related and other emergency alerts every year, and provides the President with a platform from which to address the nation in the event of a national emergency.  The Commission’s EAS rules require that all televised EAS alerts be provided in visual and aural format.  as well as to make EAS alerts, as well as any other emergency information, accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.  This means that critical information about an emergency must be provided through closed captioning or other visual means.
The EAS is expanding to an Internet-based distribution system and will be adopting a digital format called the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) to structure and distribute EAS alerts in a more robust and dependable manner.  Using CAP, critical information can be provided in text and video formats to ensure that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing will be provided the same information as that which is provided in audio format.
Mobiletelephones, whether cell phones, PDAs or smart phones, are ubiquitous and used interchangeably for texting or for traditional telephone conversations.  Mobile telephone alerts thus offer emergency personnel a highly effective platform to reach the public.  The Commission has taken steps to ensure that alerts over mobile devices will be distributed as fully accessible text messages.  In addition, the Commission’s CMAS rules require that CMAS-enabled telephones must announce those alerts using a unique vibration cadence.
Broadband
High-speed, high-capacity Internet access (“Broadband”) is facilitating new, more effective, fully accessible alerting systems.  For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in collaboration with the FCC, is developing the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which will deliver alerts to the public over communications devices as varied as televisions, radios, mobile devices and highway signs.  Further, the Commission will soon be issuing a Notice of Inquiry on how Broadband will facilitate new alerting models and technologies, such as emergency alerts delivered through social media or over connected platforms such as gaming consoles.  A primary goal of these proceedings will be to ensure that these new technologies benefit the public, including individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.
911 Services
Since the mid-1990s, all 911 emergency call centers, or Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), have been required to provide direct access to text telephone (TTY) users.  Since2009, the Commission has required that Video Relay Service and IP Relay users have access to enhanced 911 (E911) services.  E911 makes it possible for 911 calls, along with number and location information, to be routed to the appropriate PSAP.  Recently, the Commission has taken additional steps to ensure that the deaf and hard of hearing community has full access to 911 services.
First, on December 21, 2010, the Commission released its Next Generation 911 (NG911) Notice of Inquiry (NOI), which asked a number of questions about the deployment of an NG911 network, including the potential for consumers to send text messages, photos, and video to 911 call centers.  Additionally, the NOI includes a section seeking comment on what the Commission can do to ensure that the deaf and hard of hearing community has the ability to make emergency calls in an NG911 environment.
Second, the Commission has established a new Emergency Access Advisory Committee (EAAC) to work on 911 accessibility issues.  PSHSB and the Commission’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) are jointly overseeing the EAAC.   The EAAC is currently conducting a national survey to learn how individuals with disabilities access 911 services now and how they want to access 911 services in the future, for example, by sending pictures, video, and text over the Internet.  The survey will be available until April 24, 2011.  After the survey results are analyzed, the EAAC will develop recommendations for the Commission on ways to ensure access to NG911 services by individuals with disabilities.  For more information about the EAAC and to participate in the survey, visit www.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/EAAC.   

 

          

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