This is the third in a series of 4 reports on the recent National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Convention held April 9-14 in Las Vegas, NV.
Most readers of this forum are familiar with FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which will disseminate alerts over the Emergency Alert System (EAS), Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) – see more on that below – as well as other means. Messages can be originated by FEMA, NWS, and state/local emergency authorities. The system linking these message originators to the dissemination paths is called the Open Platform for Emergency Networks (OPEN). FEMA has been working diligently on IPAWS-OPEN, and has been making steady progress. On June 30, OPEN 1.0 will be supplanted by OPEN 2.0. In addition, OPEN 3.0, which is the version needed by the cellular providers to send CMAS alerts to cell phones, will be available for testing by August. CMAS alerting is scheduled for rollout in early 2012, but with the advances by FEMA and the Cellular Mobile Service Providers (CMSP) it is looking like an early soft rollout may come later this year. FEMA stated emphatically that they will be ready to supply EAS Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) messages to broadcasters and cable operators by September 30, the FCC deadline for those EAS participants to have EAS CAP gear installed.
Currently, IPAWS messages are only being made available via the Internet. However, FEMA is appreciative that additional delivery means are needed and they are actively pursuing a number of options. As far as Internet delivery of EAS messages via IPAWS-OPEN, FEMA confirmed that OPEN will offer an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed for use by EAS CAP decoders. No launch date has been set, but the RSS feed will be up before the EAS CAP clock runs out on September 30. Equipment vendors were put on notice that FEMA will continue to fund Conformance Assessment (CA) testing of EAS CAP equipment only through August. After that time, manufacturers requesting to have their EAS CAP gear tested under the CA program must pay for that testing themselves.
The NAB EAS session brought an update from FEMA on the Primary Entry Point (PEP) program. The PEP stations are currently the primary distribution method for the President’s EAS message. FEMA’s goal is to reach over 90% of the U.S. population with direct coverage from a PEP station. The program started out with 36 stations; FEMA has thus far added 12 more with an additional 19 stations planned by year’s end. This will bring them to 67 stations. The IPAWS website states that the intended goal is to have over 80 PEP stations.
The National Weather Service (NWS) was on hand in their NAB booth to offer an update on the Weather Radio Improvement Program (WRIP). That program is designed primarily to replace the aging hardware and software infrastructure at each local NWS office which provides the audio programming to the NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) transmitters. Part of the upgrade will be the capability to provide “access to NWR stations for dissemination of localized and national emergency voice alerts”. The current intent of that program is to allow the ingest of both legacy and CAP-based EAS messages at each local NWS office, but with the deployment date on that capability estimated at mid-2012 we will need to stay tuned for further details as the program develops out.
In our final NAB Convention Report, we will discuss a new pilot program announced at NAB using cutting-edge technology to deliver alerts to the palm of your hand.