February 4, 2011 - 9:44 am

Yesterday we released an order that adopts rules establishing the basic framework for national tests of the Presidential Emergency Alert System (EAS). The EAS is a national alert and warning system established to enable the President of the United States to address the American public during emergencies. Governors and state and local emergency authorities also use it — on a voluntary basis — to issue more localized emergency alerts. Under the FCC’s rules, broadcasters, cable operators, Satellite Digital Audio Radio Service providers, Direct Broadcast Satellite service providers and wireline video service providers are required to receive and transmit Presidential EAS messages to the public.

To date, the EAS has not been used to deliver a Presidential alert. While various components of the system are tested regularly, there has never been a nationwide, top-to-bottom, test of the system. In 2009, the FCC, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Executive Office of the President (EOP) (collectively, the “Federal Partners”) began planning to conduct the first-ever national test. As part of this effort, on January 6, 2010 and January 26, 2011, FEMA, along with the State of Alaska and the Alaska Broadcasters Association, conducted two “live code” tests of the Presidential EAS within Alaska. A “live code” test uses the same codes that would be used during an actual activation of the Presidential EAS. The Federal Partners are using the results and lessons learned from these tests to complete a test plan for the first ever National EAS test.

Why bother testing the current EAS when the Federal government is moving to next generation alerting systems such as the Integrated Public Alerts and Warning System (IPAWS)? The answer is simple. First, the current EAS is designed to work when other methods of disseminating emergency alerts are unavailable. Second, FEMA has stated that the current EAS will play a primary role in IPAWS for the foreseeable future. Consequently, it is imperative that we make sure that this system works as designed.  A national test will help us determine the reliability of the EAS and its effectiveness in notifying the public of emergencies and potential dangers nationwide and regionally.

Some may be concerned that this is just another way for the FCC to ascertain compliance and take enforcement actions. The purpose of this test is not to play “gotcha” with broadcasters or other EAS Participants. The purpose of this test is to determine what is working in the EAS and what is not, and to work together — FCC and its Federal Partners, state and local governments, EAS Participants and other stakeholders — to make improvements to the system as necessary. This test will require the active participation of all EAS stakeholders in the planning and preparation leading up to the test, including most significantly, outreach. The FCC along with our Federal Partners looks forward to working with EAS Participants and other EAS stakeholders in preparing for this test.

Although a date for the first National EAS Test has not yet been set, there are some things EAS Participants can begin to do now:

  • Work with your State Emergency Communications Committees (SECCs) to review and, if necessary, update your state’s EAS plans. 
  • Work with your SECCs to review the manner in which you deploy your EAS assets — particularly EAS Participant encoder/decoder equipment — to ensure end-to-end connections and the required redundancies to minimize any single points of failure within your state’s EAS architecture;

The FCC, in coordination with its federal partners, will provide further updates about the National EAS Test. Find out more information about the test rules.