Preparing For the September 2017 National EAS Test

By Larry Wilkins, CPBE, chair, SBE EAS Advisory Group

All engineers should be aware by now that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has scheduled the 2017 national EAS test for Wednesday, Sept. 27 at 2:20 p.m. ET. This test will be originated and distributed via IPAWS only; the same manner as the 2016 National Test. The test will be sent with the event code NPT for National Periodic Test. All stations are expected to receive the NPT message from IPAWS or off-air and then to relay the NPT message on-air using their normal studio EAS equipment. The message will be sent with both English and Spanish language text and audio.

In preparation for the test a few items engineers need to check.
1. Verify each EAS unit has the correct time displayed. We have seen a number of units that are off by several minutes or on the wrong time zone. Equipment should be programmed to automatically synchronize to an internet time source. Even if it is set to a time server, check the clock for the correct time.

2. Verify you have a local incoming filter programmed to receive the NPT code, and it is set to automatic relay and not log only. The originator should be set to Primary Entry Point, and the event should be set to National Periodic Test (NPT).

3. Verify your station is receiving the IPAWS Required Weekly Test (RWT) on Mondays at 11:00 a.m. local time. This will assure your equipment is polling the IPAWS national server correctly.

4. If your station plans to rebroadcast the alert in Spanish, verify that the correct settings are programmed to access the Spanish version of the message. Since the procedure varies among equipment, contact the support number for your EAS unit.

5. Engineers should (if possible) be on site for the test on Sept. 27. This way you can verify firsthand the proper reception and relay as well the quality of the audio transmission.

Remember also that the FCC will require all stations to report the reception and relay of the NPT via the Commission’s EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS). The user name and password used for the 2016 test will not gain access to the ETRS for this test.

Filers can access the ETRS home page by visiting the ETRS page of the Commission’s website. Instructions for setting a new user name and password as well as filing the proper forms are available on the ETRS site.

All EAS participants must submit Form One on the FCC ETRS site no later than Aug. 28, 2017.

Multiple Streams on a Single Station
Analog and digital broadcast stations that operate as satellites or repeaters of a hub station (or common studio or control point if there is no hub station) and rebroadcast 100 percent of the programming of the hub station (or common studio or control point) may satisfy the requirements through the use of a single set of EAS equipment at the hub station (or common studio or control point) which complies with §11.32 and §11.33.

In other words, if you have one hub station feeding 100 percent of its programming to several other stations, submit a Form One only for the EAS unit at the hub station. If a station has its own programming, it should be filing at least one copy of Form One.

Concerning digital FM stations with auxiliary streams (HD-2 or HD-3) and television stations with auxiliary streams (.2 or .3) these EAS participants should only file for auxiliary streams if they have their own dedicated EAS units.

For example, if the main channel has one EAS unit and the HD-2 and/or HD-3 stream has a separate EAS unit, they should file a separate set of forms. If all three channels share a single unit, they should file one set of forms.

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FEMA Announces Date for 2017 National EAS Test

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has set a date for the next National EAS Test: Sept. 27. A secondary date in case there is an actual emergency or weather event that day is Oct. 4. The test will be conducted in the same way (IPAWS) that FEMA originated last year’s test with both English and Spanish language text and audio.

On June 26, 2017, the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) of the Federal Communications Commission released instructions for Emergency Alert System (EAS) participants to register for access to the 2017 EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS).

The ETRS was used successfully for the second national EAS test conducted last fall. However, based on experience with that test, the FCC has mandated that filers using the 2017 ETRS must use a single account. The PSHSB also stated in its public notice that it will release a further notice in July announcing the opening of the 2017 ETRS, and the date by which EAS participants must file their EAS reporting data.

FCC Seeks Comments on Blue Alert EAS Event Codes

By the SBE EAS Advisory Group
Larry Wilkins, CPBE, chair

In May 2015, President Barack Obama signed into law legislation that created a new kind of public emergency notification: the Blue Alert. It’s similar to the well-known Amber Alert for abducted children, but is meant to help catch people who credibly threaten or actually harm law enforcement officials. Presently a number of states have created a Blue Alert that is designed to go only via email, social media and/or website.

At the request of the Justice Department, the FCC is now considering creating a designated Blue Alert event code, that according to the DOJ would “facilitate and streamline the adoption of new Blue Alert plans throughout the nation and would help to integrate existing plans into a coordinated national framework.” The Commission has announced via a notice of proposed rulemaking that it will accept public comment on the proposed Blue Alert plan and its various elements. The comment period will run for 60 days.

The SBE EAS Advisory Group is presently monitoring this as it travels through the agency and the SBE will issue advisories to members on the status. As always, we encourage broadcasters to weigh in on the issue by using the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System for docket PS 15-94. In the meantime, no technical action is required. Do not add the proposed event code yet, and continue to follow existing guidance in applicable state plans regarding any Blue Alert program that might be in effect in your area.

The SBE encourages stations to check with their state broadcaster associations and/or state emergency communication committese (SECC) to see if a Blue Alert program is in use for their state. A number of SBE members serve as chairs or board members of their SECCs. The SECCs will be tasked with formulating a plan for creation and distribution of the new Blue Alerts if adopted.

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SBE EAS Advisory Group Publishes EAS Security Notes

Prepared by the SBE EAS Advisory Group

Intrusions into computerized equipment have been around since the internet became a reality years ago. It is no surprise to broadcast engineers that these invasions have made their way into radio and television stations.

Most recently, EAS devices have been a major target. To comply with FCC rules, these devices must have internet access to receive information from FEMA via IPAWS.

Security for EAS and other station devices should be a high priority for station engineers. As a result, the SBE EAS Advisory group has put together a basic security guidelines summary to aid stations in assuring that all equipment is protected from these outside intrusions.

Summary

Every week, broadcasters like you are having their station equipment and computers hacked or tampered with by outsiders or malware infections that affect station computers and networks. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, the odds are unfortunately high that it eventually will happen.

These types of intrusions are more than an inconvenience. It can cost you to repair the systems that were compromised. It can cost you revenue for lost airtime. It can cost you credibility in your audience and community. Moreover, it eventually will cost all of us if the government feels it necessary to step in with additional regulations and requirements on broadcasters.

At the same time, it’s challenging for many broadcasters to keep up with the wide range of potential cyberattacks. Many broadcasters don’t know they have become vulnerable to attackers until it’s too late.
To help broadcasters address this growing concern, we have compiled some tips and best practices on how to keep your operation from falling prey to cybercrime. The bottom line:
• Know your Systems. Know what is connected to the network and the internet: at the office, studio, transmitter site, and remotes. If it’s connected, it is at risk.
• Defend your Network. Anything that is connected to your network or the internet must be behind a firewall.
• Protect your Equipment. Change default passwords. Change default usernames. Regularly check for and install any software upgrades or patches for equipment.
• Use Common Sense with Email and the Internet. Be cautious about opening email attachments or downloading from websites you don’t completely trust. Harmful malware can enter your station, and do significant damage to your business.
What is the problem?

Recent events had plainly shown that broadcasters are a low-hanging fruit for internet mischief-makers and cybercriminals. All too frequently, this involves key station equipment and computers left vulnerable to the internet, not changing default passwords, or even not having passwords at all.

The results have included the entire programming stream disrupted by IP streamers redirected to offensive, political and/or obscene content, the issuance of false or simulated EAS messages, the creation of fake messages and alerts via RDS encoders, the wholesale disruption of station operations when computers are locked via malware and viruses, and more. These are issues that have already happened, repeatedly.

In many cases, the threats boil down to simple vulnerabilities that could have been easily addressed beforehand.
• Stations with unconfigured firewalls – or even no firewalls.
• Station equipment left exposed and unprotected to the open internet.
• Station equipment left with default or easily guessable passwords – or even no passwords.
• Email attachments open, which introduced malware across the station network.

Presenting the potential for reaching a wide audience with inappropriate or political content, broadcasters present an irresistible opportunity for internet bad guys. Some broadcasters have opined that cybersecurity is too expensive or difficult. However, as we outline below, broadcasters can take preventative steps that are often a minimal expense – or no expense at all.

The technical solutions:

• Know Your Systems. Know what systems are connected to your network and to the internet, and know which systems should not be. If it is connected to the network, it’s going to need to be protected. This applies to looking at your systems throughout your operation. This includes the business office, studios, transmitter sites, remote control points, and other remote sites.
• Firewalls to Defend Your Network. The one security item every company needs is a firewall, a security appliance that attaches to your network and acts as the protective shield between the outside world and your wired and/or wireless network. A firewall continuously inspects traffic and matches it against a set of predesigned rules. If the traffic qualifies as safe, it’s allowed onto your network. If the traffic is questionable, the firewall blocks it and stops an attack before it enters your network. Just about anything in your broadcast facility should be behind a firewall if it is on your network, or going to be connected to the internet. Properly configure your firewall, make sure any software or firmware is up to date, and don’t leave ports open.
• Equipment Passwords and Account Management. Equipment in your station may come with a default password. You are urged to change default passwords on any equipment in your operation. If there are accounts or usernames on equipment that are default, or unused, you should also change or delete these. And remember, just because a system has a password, does not mean that it may be fully protected from access by other means. Equipment needs to be behind a firewall.
• Updates and Patches. The manufacturers of equipment in your station may contact you periodically regarding software patches and updates. Make it a practice of applying those software updates in a timely manner. Also, make it a practice of checking with your various manufacturers from time to time to see if they have released software updates of which you may not have been. These updates and patches may include not only feature improvements and bug fixes; they may also contain critical security patches.
• Secure Networks. Other measures to consider is a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN securely and inexpensively uses the public internet, instead of privately owned or leased lines, to provide remote sites and individuals with secure access to your organization’s network. Consider, for example, a VPN link as part of the STL, if that relies on an IP stream from the studio to transmitter.
• Safe Web Browsing and E-Mail Habits. Very bad things can enter the station via email or suspect web sites. If your station’s employees send e-mails and browse the internet (and of course, virtually all do!), you may also want to consider a software security solutions that include e-mail security, Web gateway security, and URL filtering.
The social solutions

• Security fundamentally involves a social aspect. Internally, you may need to reorient your employees and colleagues around safe email and web browsing habits. You may want to orient these employees to be wary of scam and phishing emails, and to beware of potentially dangerous attachments to emails from unknown or suspicious senders. You may need to reinforce safe web browsing habits, such as being careful not to download content from unknown or suspect websites.
• Broadcasters are a community. Externally, you may find opportunities to share information about what you are doing to improve security, what threats you see, and how you are addressing them.
When to call in an IT security consultant

There are going to be things you might not be able to do alone as a broadcaster. For FCC issues, you get outside legal advice. For annual and quarterly financials, you have an accountant. The same goes for security expertise. When you need to conduct a risk assessment, or get assistance in setting up network and IT security solutions, it may be money well spent it if you don’t have the expertise to do it yourself.

Don’t be part of the problem. Be part of the solution.

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 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.

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