As the recent Hurricane-Sandy-related storms have shown, wireless communications systems are vulnerable and frequently cell phone service is knocked out during major weather events. In a previous story here on AWARE last summer, we noted that having an FM radio receiver in all cellular handsets would provide a means to receive emergency information that comes directly from the broadcast station towers and does not depend on the vulnerable cellular networks. In the article, we explored why FM is currently lacking on U.S. wireless devices and highlighted the ongoing campaign of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) advocating for wireless carriers to provide FM chips in handsets. The work of broadcasters has apparently paid off, as Sprint announced this week that it would indeed begin activating FM in many of its smart phones. Even more encouraging is that the press release hints of interactive aspects to this FM tuner application, making it more than just a mere radio receiver.
FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Open Platform for Emergency Networks (OPEN) has been making great strides of late with improvements for all IPAWS Collaborative Operating Group (COG) users. Previewed in a webinar today were the features of the latest IPAWS-OPEN release, v3.04. Also highlighted was the availability for state and local alert originators and IPAWS-OPEN developers to make use of the facilities of the FEMA IPAWS Laboratory at the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) in Maryland as a platform to test their systems and alerting capabilities in an environment similar to IPAWS without causing test alerts to circulate in the actual IPAWS network.
Could FM broadcasters someday soon be able to send geo-targeted emergency alerts to their audience? A recent series of articles in Radio World Magazine highlight a new, experimental technology called ZoneCasting, which allows FM broadcast stations to geo-target program content to specific zones in their coverage areas. While designed to target advertising, purveyors of the system point out that it can be used to target emergency alerts as well.
In a recent webinar, improvements to FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System – Open Platform for Emergency Networks (IPAWS-OPEN) were announced. This is the portal that alert originators use for entering messages into IPAWS, and FEMA is making it easier for them with some new features that will take effect in September with the deployment of OPEN v3.02.
Last Fall when the FCC and FEMA conducted the first live code test for the national level of the Emergency Alert System (EAS), observers noted that some cable systems that overrode local television stations they carried caused significant disruptions to those stations. Apart from this, the FCC has received a series of complaints from local television viewers based on interruptions caused by routine tests and, in some cases, real EAS events including AMBER alerts. While the FCC has not yet issued their report on the national live code test, some EAS committees have been working with cable systems to explore the extent of the issue, and what might be done long term to fix override problems that at best frustrate local TV viewers receiving stations on cable, and at worst interrupt real-time coverage of emergencies by local TV stations with full service news departments. Continue reading »