Skip Navigation

Federal Communications Commission

English Display Options

Commission Document

Enforcement Advisory: Misuse of EAS Signals or Tones Prohibited

Download Options

Released: November 5, 2013

PUBLIC NOTICE

Federal Communications Commission

News Media Information 202 / 418-0500

445 12th St., S.W.

Internet: http://www.fcc.gov

TTY: 1-888-835-5322


Washington, D.C. 20554



DA 13-2123










November 5, 2013

Enforcement Advisory No. 2013-7




FCC ENFORCEMENT ADVISORY



EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM

False, Fraudulent or Unauthorized Use of the Emergency Alert System Attention Signal

and Codes is Strictly Prohibited

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau (Bureau) issues this Enforcement Advisory to promote widespread understanding
of the laws governing appropriate use of the Emergency Alert System codes and Attention Signal. Any
transmission, including broadcast, of the EAS Attention Signal or codes, or a simulation of them, under any
circumstances other than a genuine alert or an authorized test of the EAS system violates federal law1 and
undermines the important public safety protections the EAS provides. There is growing concern about the misuse
of the EAS tones and Attention Signal to capture audience attention during advertisements and at other times
when there is no emergency or test. The FCC may issue sanctions for such violations, including monetary
forfeitures.2

The EAS is a national public warning system that requires broadcasters, cable television operators, wireless cable
operators, wireline video service providers, satel ite digital audio radio service providers, and direct broadcast
satel ite providers to make it possible for the President of the United States to address the American public during
a national emergency. Federal, state, and local authorities may also use the EAS to deliver important emergency
information, such as AMBER alerts3 and weather information targeted to specific areas.

In response to numerous consumer complaints, the Bureau recently began several investigations into entities that
broadcast, transmitted, or caused to be transmitted content that allegedly used the EAS codes or Attention Signal
(or simulations thereof) to capture the audience’s attention in connection with unauthorized uses, including
advertisements and promotions. In response to these investigations, the Bureau is releasing two enforcement
items concurrently with this Enforcement Advisory.

First, the Bureau is issuing a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture in the amount of $25,000 to Turner
Broadcasting System, Inc. (Turner), for violations of Section 325(a) of the Communications Act of 1934, as

1 See 47 U.S.C. § 325(a) (prohibiting false or fraudulent distress signals); 47 C.F.R. § 11.45 (prohibiting persons from
transmitting or causing the transmission of the EAS Attention Signal or tones, or simulations thereof, under any
circumstances other than a real alert or an authorized test of the EAS system). See, e.g., Emmis Broadcasting Corp.
of St. Louis, Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture, 6 FCC Rcd 2289 (1991) (prior to existence of § 11.45,
finding radio station in violation of Section 325(a) for broadcasting a fraudulent distress signal that listeners thought
was the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) announcing that the United States was under nuclear attack) (Emmis).
2 See 47 C.F.R. § 1.80.
3 America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) alerts inform the public via radio, television and
highway signs about possible child abductions. See U.S. Department of Justice, Frequently Asked Questions
(January 2010), available at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/newsroom/pdfs/amberfaq.pdf.
Page 1 of 4


amended, and Section 11.45 of the Commission’s rules.4 Following a complaint from the public concerning
Turner’s misuse of EAS codes or Attention Signal, the Bureau investigated and found that Turner produced and
transmitted, or caused the transmission of, a promotion for an evening talk show that included a simulation of the
EAS Attention Signal.

Second, the Bureau is entering into a $39,000 Consent Decree with MMK License LLC, licensee of a television
broadcast station, to settle apparent violations of the ban on unauthorized use of the EAS Attention Signal.5 The
licensee acknowledges broadcasting a commercial that included an auditory signal that simulated the EAS Attention
Signal. During the course of our investigation, the licensee cooperated with the Bureau’s inquiries and requests,
and voluntarily proposed, and committed to implement, a comprehensive compliance plan and educational
program to help deter future violations of the Commission’s EAS rules. The licensee also has agreed to adopt and
implement a robust compliance plan that includes employee training and self-reporting of future noncompliance.

How does the EAS work?

EAS uses a four-part message to signal an emergency.6 The EAS components gain the listener’s or viewer’s
attention and convey special y coded information to activate equipment needed in a real emergency. In particular,
the EAS codes include sound and encoded information concerning the particular kind of emergency. There is a
separate Attention Signal that follows the codes and comprises two tones that are transmitted simultaneously.

What is the FCC’s role in overseeing the EAS?

The FCC, in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service, implements the EAS at the federal level. The FCC’s role
includes prescribing rules that establish technical standards for the EAS, procedures for EAS participants to follow
in the event the EAS is activated, and EAS testing protocols. Additional y, the FCC ensures that the EAS state and
local plans developed by industry conform to the FCC’s EAS regulations. Final y, the FCC enforces rules to ensure
that the EAS Attention Signal and tones are not used for unauthorized purposes.

What rules govern the use of the EAS Codes and Attention Signal?

Section 11.45 of the Commission’s rules states that “[n]o person may transmit or cause to transmit the EAS codes
or Attention Signal, or a recording or simulation thereof, in any circumstance other than in an actual National,
State or Local Area emergency or authorized test of the EAS.”7 Thus, if advertisements, promotional
announcements, or other programming includes the EAS codes or Attention Signal (or simulations thereof) not in
connection with an actual emergency or authorized EAS test, they are il egal.8 A “simulation” of the EAS codes or

4 Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., File No. EB-12-IH-0874, Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture, DA No. 13-
2125 (Enf. Bur. Nov. 5, 2013).
5 MMK License, LLC, File No. EB-13-IH-0059, Order and Consent Decree, DA No. 13-2124 (Enf. Bur. Nov. 5,
2013).
6 The four parts are: Preamble and EAS Header Codes; audio Attention Signal; message; and, Preamble and EAS
End Of Message (EOM) Codes. See 47 C.F.R. § 11.31.
7 47 C.F.R. § 11.45.
8 The rules permit EAS Participants to use Public Service Announcements (PSAs) or commercial sponsors to
explain EAS to the public, but here too they are not permitted to “simulate or attempt to copy alert tones or
codes.” 47 C.F.R. § 11.46. See Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau Reminds Media Outlets and EAS Participants
That Broadcast of EAS Tones and Attention Signal Is Prohibited Except During Authorized EAS Activations, Including Tests,
Public Notice, DA 11-1867 (Pub. Safety and Homeland Sec. Bur. Nov. 8, 2011). But cf. Waiver of Section 11.45 of
the Commission’s Rules to Allow Broadcast of Public Service Announcements Produced by the Federal Emergency
Management Agency to Educate the Public on the Wireless Emergency Alert System, Order, DA 13-1301 (Pub. Safety
and Homeland Sec. Bur. May 31, 2013) (granting a limited waiver of Section 11.45 to al ow the broadcast or
transmission of a simulated Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) Attention Signal in PSAs developed by FEMA as part
of its campaign to educate the public about the WEA system). The limited, brief waiver applies only to the FEMA-
sponsored PSAs described in the waiver request, and the PSAs must not mislead the listening or viewing public
Page 2 of 4




Attention Signal includes not only recordings of actual EAS codes or Attention Signals,9 but also sounds that mimic
or are substantial y similar to them, such that an average listener could reasonably mistake the sounds for an actual
EAS code or Attention Signal. By contrast, general alarms or other loud noises, including bells, claxons, and police,
fire or civil defense sirens, are not considered “simulations” of the EAS codes or Attention Signal and therefore
are not prohibited under section 11.45 of the Commission’s rules.10
The rule applies to any “person” who “transmits” or “causes to transmit” a prohibited signal. The prohibition thus
applies to programmers that distribute programming containing a prohibited sound regardless of whether or not
they deliver the unlawful signal directly to consumers; it also applies to a person who transmits an unlawful signal
even if that person did not create or produce the prohibited programming in the first instance. Therefore, the
prohibition also applies to a broadcaster, cable operator, or satel ite carrier that transmits programming containing
a prohibited sound even if the programmer that embedded the sound is not under common ownership or control
with the respective broadcaster, operator, or carrier.
Moreover, false or fraudulent use of the EAS codes or Attention Signal (or simulations thereof) may violate Section
325(a) of the Act, which prohibits transmission of false distress signals.11 For example, in Emmis Broadcasting Co. of
St. Louis, the Commission found a radio station in Missouri apparently liable for violating Section 325(a) after the
station broadcast a “bleep” that listeners mistook for an authentic emergency signal; the Commission held that
using the tone to “cry wolf” undermined the integrity of the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) and endangered
the effectiveness of the EBS warning tone as a method of alerting the public to real danger.12 The Commission
pointed to the broadcast’s effect on the EBS as a factor that exacerbated the violation, even though the station did
not use the actual EBS attention signal.13 At that time, in 1991, the Commission lacked a rule that explicitly
prohibited unauthorized or false or fraudulent use of emergency broadcast signals, and relied on Section 325(a).
The Commission subsequently proposed and adopted the prohibition in Section 11.45.14

For broadcast licensees, false or fraudulent EAS signals also may violate the Commission’s prohibition against the
broadcast of hoaxes. Section 73.1217 of the rules prohibits broadcast licensees or permittees from broadcasting
false information concerning a crime or a catastrophe if: (1) the licensee knows this information is false; (2) it is
foreseeable that broadcast of the information wil cause substantial public harm; and (3) broadcast of the

into erroneously concluding that an actual emergency exists.
9 See 47 C.F.R. § 11.31.
10 Even though these sounds standing alone would not violate Section 11.45 of the rules, Section 325(a) of the Act
covers a potential y broader circumstance in which such sounds might contribute to false or fraudulent
communication of distress prohibited under the statute. See infra note 11.
11 See 47 U.S.C. § 325(a) (“No person within the jurisdiction of the United States shal knowingly utter or transmit,
or cause to be uttered or transmitted, any false or fraudulent signals of distress, or communication relating thereto
. . .”).
12 See Emmis, 6 FCC Rcd 2289-90 (also noting that Emmis announced, with the sound of civil defense sirens in the
background, that the tone was not a test and the United States was under nuclear attack). The EBS was the
immediate predecessor of the EAS.
13 Id. at 2289–90 (noting that Emmis used a common “bleep” tone rather than the two-tone EBS warning and thus
no EBS equipment was activated, but listeners mistook the tone for the authentic EBS signal).

14 See Amendment of Part 73, Subpart G, of the Commission's Rules Regarding the Emergency Broadcast System, Notice
of Proposed Rule Making/Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making, 7 FCC Rcd 6903, 6907–08, paras. 39–45
(1992); Amendment of Part 73, Subpart G, of the Commission's Rules Regarding the Emergency Broadcast System, Report
and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making, 10 FCC Rcd 1786, 1815, para. 84 (1994), subsequent
history omitted (stating “[s]uch false use and misconduct wil be considered a false distress communication and wil
be subject to Commission penalties, such as monetary forfeiture or other appropriate sanctions”).
Page 3 of 4




information does in fact directly cause substantial public harm.15 For purposes of this rule, “public harm” must
begin immediately and cause direct and actual damage to property or to the health or safety of the general public,
or cause diversion of law enforcement or other public health and safety authorities from their duties.16

What happens if the Commission’s EAS rules are violated?

Failure to comply with the Communications Act or Commission’s rules may subject a violator to sanctions
including, but not limited to, substantial monetary forfeitures. As noted above, the Bureau is issuing a $25,000
Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture to a cable network program provider for violations of Section 325(a) of
the Act and Section 11.45 of the Commission’s rules, and has also entered into a Consent Decree with a
broadcast licensee, whereby the licensee agreed to make a $39,000 voluntary contribution to the U.S. Treasury, as
well as adopt and implement a robust compliance plan. Other investigations remain ongoing, and the Bureau will
take further enforcement action if warranted. In the meantime, the Bureau wil continue to monitor and enforce
compliance with these rules consistent with their importance in promoting and protecting public safety.

What should consumers do if they hear a false or fraudulent EAS Signal?

Consumers who believe they have heard an EAS code or EAS Attention Signal on the radio, television, or other
transmission media that is not transmitted in connection with an actual national, state or local emergency or
authorized test may contact the FCC at 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) or file a complaint online at
http://www.fcc.gov/complaints">www.fcc.gov/complaints.

Need more information?

For additional information regarding this Enforcement Advisory, please contact Gregory Simon of the Enforcement
Bureau at 202-418-1764 or Gregory.Simon@fcc.gov, or Jennifer Lewis of the Enforcement Bureau at 202-418-
2051 or Jennifer.Lewis@fcc.gov. Media inquiries should be directed to Mark Wigfield at (202) 418-0253 or
Mark.Wigfield@fcc.gov.

For additional information regarding use of the Emergency Alert System, please visit
http://fcc.gov/pshs/services/eas/">http://fcc.gov/pshs/services/eas/ or contact Gregory Cooke of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau at
(202) 418-2351 or Gregory.Cooke@fcc.gov.

To request materials in accessible formats for people with disabilities (Braille, large print, electronic files, audio
format), send an e-mail to fcc504@fcc.gov or cal the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau at 202-418-0530
(voice), (202) 418-0432 (TTY). You may also contact the Enforcement Bureau on its TTY line at (202) 418-1148
for further information about this Enforcement Advisory, or the FCC on its TTY line at 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-
835-5322) for further information about the Emergency Alert System.

Issued by: Acting Chief, Enforcement Bureau

15 47 C.F.R. § 73.1217.
16 See id., Note. In contrast, Section 11.45 does not require a showing of “harm” to demonstrate a violation.
Page 4 of 4




Note: We are currently transitioning our documents into web compatible formats for easier reading. We have done our best to supply this content to you in a presentable form, but there may be some formatting issues while we improve the technology. The original version of the document is available as a PDF, Word Document, or as plain text.

close
FCC

You are leaving the FCC website

You are about to leave the FCC website and visit a third-party, non-governmental website that the FCC does not maintain or control. The FCC does not endorse any product or service, and is not responsible for, nor can it guarantee the validity or timeliness of the content on the page you are about to visit. Additionally, the privacy policies of this third-party page may differ from those of the FCC.