The Society of Broadcast Engineers Forms EAS Advisory Group

The Society of Broadcast Engineers has actively worked as a source of information for the Emergency Alert System since it was launched. As the system has developed and evolved to include new technologies and alerting partners, so has the SBE adapted to be the most effective and thorough resource for broadcasters to use to implement their EAS efforts.

As part of this evolution, SBE President Jerry Massey, CPBE, 8-VSB, AMD, DRB, CBNT, authorized the formation of the SBE EAS Advisory Group. The purpose of the group is to stay abreast of developments regarding EAS that will affect SBE members, including changes in federal regulations, policy and technology, and communicate pertinent developments to appropriate SBE national leadership and staff.

The group’s member’s are:
Larry Wilkins, CPBE, AMD, CBNT (group chair)
George Molnar
James Hoge
Ed Czarnecki (Monroe Electronics/Digital Alert Systems)
Harold Price (Sage Alerting Systems)

The group members were chosen to yield insight from the two SBE national committees that are involved with EAS issues, SBE members who are heavily involved with EAS, and SBE sustaining members that manufacture EAS equipment. The group reports to Wayne Pecena, CPBE, 8-VSB, AMD, DRB, CBNE, the chair of the SBE Education Committee, and Joe Snelson, CPBE, 8-VSB, the chair of the SBE Government Relations Committee.

On the announcement of the group’s formation, SBE President Jerry Massey said, “The SBE has worked with the various EAS partners, from stations to manufacturers to legislators, to be the trusted source of EAS information. The SBE EAS Advisory Group continues the effort that was begun by previous SBE committees.”

Larry Wilkins, the group chair, added, “Going forward, one focus of the group will be to field reports concerning origination or distribution problems from broadcast stations and state emergency communications committees (SECC). Using the expertise of the committee members along with information from our contacts with the FCC and FEMA, a recommended solution can be issued to the industry.”

Initial Findings of the 2016 EAS Nationwide Test

EAS logoAt the end of December, the FCC released an initial overview of the nationwide EAS test results and highlighted several opportunities for strengthening the EAS. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission (Commission) and the National Weather Service (NWS), conducted a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) at 2:20 p.m. EDT on Sept. 28, 2016. The nationwide test was designed to assess the reliability and effectiveness of the EAS, with a particular emphasis on testing FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), the integrated gateway through which common alerting protocol-based (CAP-based) EAS alerts are disseminated to EAS Participants.

The test also provided the Commission an opportunity to evaluate improvements made to the EAS since the 2011 nationwide EAS test and to improve its ability to monitor the performance of EAS Participants during nationwide EAS tests. At the direction of the Commission, the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau launched the EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS), an electronic filing system and related database, on June 27, 2016. Using ETRS for the first time, EAS Participants nationwide registered accounts and submitted identifying information regarding their participation in the EAS. In the hours following the nationwide test, EAS Participants submitted “day of test” results that indicated whether they successfully received and retransmitted the test alert. EAS Participants submitted detailed analyses in the weeks following the test that specified how they received the alert and identified any complications they experienced during the test.

The FCC reports that the Nationwide EAS Test was successful. Initial test data indicates that the vast majority of EAS participants successfully received and retransmitted the National Periodic Test (NPT) code that was used for the test. The improvements made to the EAS using the lessons learned from the 2011 nationwide EAS test and the implementation of the ETRS appear to have significantly improved test performance over what was observed during the 2011 test.

From the data submitted by EAS participants to the ETRS, several steps have been identified where the Commission could strengthen the EAS. These improvements address problems with poor audio quality, inability to deliver the Spanish alert because of receive timing between the over-the-air test and the IPAWS CAP alert, better access to alerts for people with disabilities, shortcomings in some state EAS plans, improperly configured station equipment, and potential improvements in cybersecurity of the EAS.

Read the FCC’s public notice:
https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-16-1452A1.docx
https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-16-1452A1.pdf

Be Prepared for the 2016 National EAS Test

EAS logoWith the pending national EAS test, and the FCC’s unveiling of the EAS Test Reporting System, the SBE has prepared this summary of dates and actions of which all stations should be aware.

Aug. 26, 2016
Stations must complete Form One in the ETRS

Sep 28, 2016, 2:20 p.m. ET
EAS test
If circumstances prevent a test on Sep 28, the secondary test date is Oct 5, 2016.

Sep 28, 2016
By 11:59 p.m. ET, stations must complete the day-of-test report on Form Two in the ETRS

Nov 14, 2016
Deadline to submit post-test data on Form Three in the ETRS

FCC Adds Three EAS Event Weather Codes

The FCC has released a report and order to add three new weather event codes for the Emergency Alert System. The codes are Extreme Wind Warning (EWW), Storm Surge Watch (SSA) and Storm Surge Warning (SSW).

Read the complete report and order at the FCC website.

From the R&O, the FCC will “require EAS equipment manufacturers to integrate these codes into equipment yet to be manufactured or sold, and make necessary software upgrades available to EAS participants no later than six months from the effective date of the rule amendments adopted in this order.”

While the new codes will not need to be added to EAS devices until 2017, the SBE has gathered information on adding the codes.

Gorman-Redlich Users
Gorman-Redlich will deliver new units with the codes as per the deadline. For existing units, contact the compoany. A new EPROM is likely required.

Monroe Electronics/Digital Alert System Users
DASDEC and R189 One-Net software version 3.0 already support these three event codes. If you have v3.0, no further action is needed, aside from selecting the codes from the drop-down menu if you want to use them.

Sage Alerting System Users
Sage plans to include the codes in the upcoming 89.30 release. To add the events now, use the “New Events” tab in the ENDECSetD settings program to define the new event code, then include the codes a filter as needed.

Trilithic Users
EASyCap B4020 software will be updated for the event codes. Users subscribed to the Trilithic Newsgroup will be notified when the update is ready. Starting Jan. 1, 2017, a radio-specific EAS product will be available. There are no plans to update the EASyCast platform. That product platform has reached the end of its service, so unless a large number of users request an update, one will not be released.

FCC Technological Advisory Council Opens Noise Floor Technical Inquiry

The SBE’s often-stated concerns about increases in ambient noise, especially in the AM broadcast band, have received a response from the FCC. On June 15, 2016, the Commission issued public notice DA 16-676 announcing that its Technological Advisory Council (TAC), an FCC advisory group, will investigate changes and trends to the radio spectrum noise floor to determine if there is an increasing noise problem. If it finds that there is such an increasing problem, the TAC will investigate its scope and the quantitative evidence available. Initially, the FCC on behalf of the TAC is asking how a noise study should be performed.

Comments from the public are due by Aug. 11, 2016. The SBE will file comments prepared with the assistance of its Government Relations Committee and its Executive Committee.

The comments from the public are intended to help the TAC determine the scope of the study. The TAC will seek to determine changes to the spectrum noise floor over the past 20 years. It is not frequency-limited, though most of the complaints in SBE’s experience typically concern ambient, man-made noise in the medium-frequency, high-frequency and VHF bands. Noise in this context denotes unwanted radio frequency (RF) energy from man-made sources. The FCC Public Notice indicates that the expectation of the TAC is a finding that the noise floor in the radio spectrum is rising. This assumption is based on the fact that the number of unlicensed, intentional and unintentional RF radiators and industrial, scientific and medical devices in use that emit radio energy increase. However, FCC cites a dearth of what it terms “concrete evidence” of increased noise floors and a lack of quantitative data to support the presumption. The TAC asks for help in strategizing how the available data can be added to, in order to advise FCC.

In the SBE’s view, this study is long overdue. SBE General Counsel Chris Imlay says, “The FCC does not have a working knowledge of ambient RF levels in different environments and has not had such for years. Without this, it is impossible to know whether the Part 15 radiated and conducted emissions limits for intentional, unintentional and incidental radiators are adequate. Because FCC has neither the resources nor the inclination to address individual cases of interference attributable to, for example, RF devices, power lines, switching power supplies, RF lighting systems and the vast array of other noise contributors in the field, it is critical that ambient RF be regulated prior to the point of retail sale. The results of this study will clearly help evaluate the adequacy of the current Part 15 and Part 18 regulations.”

The TAC is asking a very wide-ranging series of specific and general questions and many sub-questions about how an ambient noise study should be conducted and how noise should be evaluated, including the following:

1. Is there a noise problem?
• If so, what are the expected major sources of noise that are of concern?
• What services are being most impacted by a rising spectrum noise floor?

2. Where does the problem exist?
• What frequency bands are of the most interest?
• In what environments?

3. Is there quantitative evidence of the overall increase in the noise floor across various segments of the radio frequency spectrum?
• At what levels does the noise floor cause harmful interference to particular radio services?
• What RF environment data from the past 20 years is available, showing the contribution of the major sources of noise?

4. How should a noise study be performed?
• Would receiver noise measurements commonly logged by certain users (e.g. radio astronomers, cellular, and broadcast auxiliary licensees) be available and useful for noise floor studies?
• How much data must be collected to reach a conclusion?

The broadcast engineering community is both uniquely affected by increases in ambient noise, and uniquely qualified to participate in this study. The geographic distribution of SBE members in all RF environments makes SBE an asset to the TAC in the conduct of this study. All broadcast licensees, especially AM broadcast licensees, have a stake in this study. SBE members with input on this subject are urged to contact the SBE Government Relations Committeewith your thoughts on the issues listed in the public notice.

FCC Launches EAS Test Reporting System

The FCC EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS) is up and running. The system is for EAS participants to file identifying information, day of test data, and post-test data related to a nationwide test. The ETRS provides several new features that ease the data-entry burden on EAS participants, encourage timely filings, and minimize input errors. The ETRS also offers new data fields that are responsive to stakeholder comments.

Access the ETRS

The FCC will use this system for the September National EAS Test and future EAS regional and national tests. There are multiple steps involved in the reporting process. The first step is to complete Form One, which must be done Aug. 26, 2016. To complete the form, participants must register on the ETRS site using the station’s FRN number and a password. Once registered, the FCC will send ETRS account credentials and a link to the ETRS login page.

Adrienne Abbott, SBE member and Nevada EAS chair, compiled some details about the system. Every station will need to complete a Form One. Station groups have the option of designating a coordinator to handle the filings. The coordinator will have the ability to batch file the forms. The form requires call letters as they appear on the license, the facility number for each station and the name of the station’s legal owner. As information is entered, some information will automatically populate the form from the FCC’s CDBS. It is advised to verify the CDBS information is correct.

The transmitter coordinates will not self-populate and must be entered directly. Use decimal form and NAD 83. Licenses are issued with NAD 27, so those numbers cannot be used. The FCC provides a conversion tool, and some consulting engineers offer the station info. If a tower is registered, the coordinates on the registration are in NAD 83. A Google map should appear if the coordinates are close. Check the map for your exact tower location. It should be within one second of the location on your license. If not, correct the location on the license.

The form will ask for the station’s monitoring assignments, but there is no need to include the NWS NOAA Weather Radio frequency. Enter the broadcast stations. The form will also ask for the brand of EAS equipment being used and the firmware/software version. Check the manufacturer’s website to make sure you have the latest update before you enter that information.

After the test, complete Form Two with the initial results of how the test was received and rebroadcast. The FCC wants that information as soon as possible after the test. Form Three allows more time to add any details or other information about the test.

In the FCC announcement about the ETRS, there is mention of a new EAS Handbook. Read the complete FCC public notice.

FCC Schedules Online Public File Webinar for June 13, 2016

Washinton, DC – In May 2016, the FCC announced the the first group of entities being added to the Commission’s expanded online public inspection file database must commence using the database on June 24, 2016. The database was initially established in 2012 for use by television broadcasters.

On June 24, 2016, cable systems with 1,000 or more subscribers, DBS providers, SDARS licensees, and commercial radio stations in the top 50 Nielsen Audio radio markets with five or more full-time employees must place their new public inspection file documents in the Commission-hosted online public file database. In addition, these entities must place their existing public file documents into the online public file within six months after the effective date (Dec. 24, 2016). Entities will not be required to place in the online public file existing political file material.

On June 13, 2016, the FCC will conduct a public demonstration of the expanded Online Public Inspection File (OPIF), which will replace the current Broadcast Public Inspection File (BPIF) process. The FCC will exhibit the interface that will be used by broadcast television and radio stations, cable systems, satellite television, and radio systems to file documents in the online public file database. The demonstration will inform users of the design, layout, and content of the OPIF site, discuss how to upload information and files, and present the new Application Program Interface (API) functionalities. The demonstration will also be available online.

The demonstration will take place on June 13 at 1 p.m. EDT in the Commission Meeting Room at FCC Headquarters, 445 12th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20554. It will also be streamed online. The link for the stream will be available at

https://www.fcc.gov/news-events/events/2016/06/demonstration-expanded-online-public-inspection-file-interface

The FCC’s helpdesk is available to answer questions regarding the OPIF database: 877-480-3201, 717-338-2824 (TTY) or https://esupport.fcc.gov/request.htm.

Additional info:
FCC Public Notice – June 2, 2016
Online Public Inspection File Demonstration Announced – June 13, 2016
https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-16-607A1.pdf

FCC Public Notice – May 12, 2016
Effective Date Announced for Expanded Online Public Inspection File Database
https://www.fcc.gov/document/effective-date-announced-expanded-online-public-file

SBE Files FCC Comments on AM Improvement

The Society of Broadcast Engineers filed comments in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s further notice of proposed rulemaking and the combined notice of inquiry in the AM Improvement Docket, 13-249. Its comments focused on a single issue first raised in the SBE’s comments filed in the proceeding in 2014, but not addressed by the FCC in its October 21, 2015, first report and order: that of ambient noise in the AM broadcast band specifically, and in the Medium Frequency bands generally. The SBE’s comments note that the Commission has made, and is currently examining additional short-term improvements in AM broadcasting in this proceeding. Although those short-term initiatives may be necessary to help the serious economic conditions for AM broadcasters, they are not going to lead to any meaningful, long-term improvement in MF AM broadcasting. To do that, the SBE asserts, the Commission is going to have to be willing to implement some difficult regulatory reforms that it has not addressed to date. It must develop and commit to a regulatory plan that, over time, will reduce the levels of man-made noise in the MF bands, and more broadly in the bands below 30MHz.

The FCC noted earlier in the docket that “AM radio is particularly susceptible to interference from electronic devices of all types, including such ubiquitous items as TV sets, vehicle engines, fluorescent lighting, computers, and power lines. The noise on the AM band that is caused by those sources is only expected to increase as electronic devices continue to proliferate.” The SBE suggested that this increase in noise is not inevitable. However, it is a serious and worsening problem. Citing the aggregate effects of Part 15 and Part 18 unlicensed devices, the SBE notes that the FCC does not have any practical ability to address the interference potential of unlicensed devices past the point of sale. Reductions in field staff available to conduct spectrum enforcement have made enforcement in interference cases involving unlicensed devices unavailable in the future. The only source of regulatory reform that has a meaningful chance to positively affect the noise floor over time are the regulations that create obligations on manufacturers and importers and dealers, prior to the point that the consumer deploys it.

Citing a study by the LBA Group, AM reception is dependent on the desired signal being typically some 26dB above the ambient noise level. The AM band is subject to AM coverage distortion, increasing noise threats, and interference from the proliferation of wireless systems, electronic devices and low-frequency radiators that distort AM signals more now than as recently as 10 years ago. The electric power grid has expanded, bringing noise contributions from corona, arcing, and other modes. AM stations have increased power to raise their signal-to-noise ratio in an attempt to preserve their coverage areas, often interfering with other stations. But there is a limit to power increases, both economically and technically, and those limits are now reached in many cases.

The SBE argues that AM listeners have media options, and that RF noise will make them exercise those options. When an RF lighting device or a Part 15 intentional radiator causes interference to their receivers, AM listeners receive interference. They will not suffer it; They will simply utilize different media. The SBE urges the Commission to commence an interference management plan for the AM band, based on rules that limit RF noise before it becomes an issue, not after the fact, and those rules have to be enforced. The FCC should also study current ambient noise in the MF band, with an eye toward updating older studies on the subject. This will permit a reasoned analysis of the Commission’s Part 15 and Part 18 rules and thus contribute to a controlled RF environment over time. The SBE suggested that AM broadcasting will never get better in the worsening RF noise environment in the bands below 30MHz without some regulatory relief.

Read the SBE’s filing.

Regional National Periodic Test Scheduled for Feb. 24

The first test of the new EAS National Periodic Test (NPT) code will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. The test is scheduled for 2:20 p.m. Eastern Standard Time/1:20 p.m. Central Standard Time. This test will contain audio, and it will sound very much like a Required Monthly Test. There is no Web portal verification required on this test. Stations are to relay this test just as they would a Required Monthly Test. FEMA is requesting that LP1 and LP2 stations relay the test immediately with no hold time.

The primary purpose of this test is to verify the NPT code is programmed correctly in station equipment. The test does not require the use of the all-zero FIPS code. EAS equipment that has not been upgraded to handle the all-zero FIPS code should have no immediate concern. Because specific states are receiving the test, those state FIPS codes will be transmitted. All stations should, however, verify that their equipment is ready for the all-zero FIPS code. Contact your EAS equipment manufacturer if you are not sure.

The Missouri Broadcasters Association has posted instructions on preparing EAS units for the NPT code.

FEMA presented several webinars on EAS programming and preparation for this test. A list of those presentations and links to some of the archives are at the end of this article.

Test participation is encouraged, but not required for stations in the targeted states and territories. FEMA, working with state broadcast associations, started with a single state, West Virginia, and progressed to a north-south string of states from Michigan to Tennessee. That test was followed by a six-state test in New England, and more recently a group composed of four southwestern states plus two north central states. The next proposed group consists of 22 states from Nebraska to New York to Florida to Texas including all states in between that have not participated in previous testing, plus two territories and the District of Columbia.

IPAWS/ EAS Test States/Territories

Alabama Kansas North Carolina
Arkansas Louisiana Oklahoma
Delaware Maryland Pennsylvania
District of Columbia Mississippi Puerto Rico
Florida Missouri South Carolina
Georgia Nebraska Texas
Illinois New Jersey US Virgin Islands
Indiana New York Virginia
Iowa

FEMA does not propose that the NPT will replace any scheduled RMT or RWT messages. This eliminates FCC Enforcement Bureau action should a volunteer test participant experience a problem relaying the test message. This is an opportunity for EAS participants to observe exactly how their equipment performs prior to mandatory participation in the next national IPAWS/EAS test currently scheduled for early December 2016.

FEMA Webinar Audio Recordings

ISSRT Non-Technical Webinar
Jan. 20, 2016

Technical Webinar I
Jan. 28, 2016

Technical Webinar II
Feb. 3, 2016

Technical Webinar III
Feb. 9, 2016

The Recording of the technical webinar presented in Spanish in cooperation with the Puerto Rico Broadcasters Association on Feb. 10, 2016, is unfortunately not available.

FEMA Plans New England Regional IPAWS Test, Holds Informative Webinars To Prep

FEMA, working with state broadcast associations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont is planning to conduct a New England regional IPAWS test in September. This test will be a follow-up to the tests conducted in West Virginia last September, which resulted in 90% of participating stations successfully carrying the National Periodic Test EAS code and second test involving participants in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee, conducted on March 18, 2015, which met with similar success. FEMA is conducting a series of regional tests in preparation for a future nationwide IPAWS test. The goal of these preliminary tests is to evaluate how messages are distributed and propagated throughout the system, and identify areas for improvement.

The next regional test, which will involve participants in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, will be conducted on Sept. 16, 2015, at 2:20 p.m. Eastern Time. Local radio and television stations are not required to participate in the test; however, broad participation by stations will be very helpful in evaluating how the test messages propagate throughout the region.

In preparation for the test, FEMA is hosting technical webinars on Aug. 19 at 2 p.m. Eastern and Sept. 3 at 10 a.m. Eastern. The webinars will outline how the Sept. 16 test will be conducted, and will also provide information regarding EAS device configuration in preparation for the test. The technical webinars will discuss the technical side of IPAWS and conclude with step-by-step instructions for configuring various EAS devices. The two tech webinars will be essentially identical. The webinars will be recorded and available for later viewing as well.

The webinars are open to all but will specifically address the New England test. FEMA will conduct additional webinars in support of future tests in other areas of the country.

Links

Topic: NE ISSRT Technical Webinar I
Date and Time: August 19, 2015 2:00 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time (New York, GMT-04:00)

Event address for attendees:

http://tinyurl.com/nufuecl

Audio conference information
650-479-3207
Access code: 662 686 997

Topic: NE ISSRT Technical Webinar II
Date and Time: Thursday, September 3, 2015 10:00 am, Eastern Daylight Time (New York, GMT-04:00)

Event address for attendees:

http://tinyurl.com/nlrpfmc

Audio conference information
650-479-3207
Access code: 662 930 173