National EAS test showed improvement, FCC says

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national eas 2021 test report coverThe national emergency alert system test last August showed an improvement over the previous test in 2019, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

“Reception and retransmission rates have increased, while reported complications from monitored sources have significantly decreased,” he said in a new report.

But the commission said the technical issues that have arisen highlight the importance of these EAS stations which are monitored by many others.

“It is extremely important that EAS participants who are heavily monitored use testing to ensure that their EAS equipment is in good working order.

Some key data points from the report:

The national test message reached 89.3% of EAS participants, up from 82.5% two years ago. Its overall retransmission success rate was 87.1%, compared to 79.8%. Seven stations at the main entry point experienced technical complications, less than last time. And test participants reported about half as many complications with receiving and retransmitting this time around.

The FCC concluded, “As observed in 2019, the system would largely perform as intended and reach the vast majority of the public if activated without the availability of the internet.”

This last sentence is important because this particular test – carried out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in coordination with the FCC – only used the broadcast-based distribution system, the so-called “EAS daisy chain”, and did not involve the internet based system. IPAWS system. The objective was to verify the capacity of the system to deliver messages in the event of unavailability of the Internet path.

DIGGING INTO THE DETAILS

The FCC said the vast majority of EAS participants reported successful reception and retransmission. There are over 25,000 EAS participants, including radio and television stations, cable television systems, direct-to-home satellite broadcasting, SiriusXM, digital audio broadcasting and wired video systems.

Where issues did arise they were with equipment configuration, performance issues, audio quality, alert source issues, and clock errors. Audio quality problems were the most frequently reported at reception. The test “shed light on the challenges that hindered the ability of some EAS participants to receive and / or re-transmit the test alert.”

There are 76 main entry point stations in the country; seven reported technical complications this time compared to 12 in 2019.

“We believe it is reasonable to infer that these improvements in the performance of PEP stations have contributed significantly to the marked increases in receive and retransmission rates,” the FCC concluded. “In addition… many PEP 2021 complications resulted in low sound rather than a complete failure of nationwide transmission of the test.”

PEP stations with problems were in North Carolina, Michigan, Kentucky, Florida, Virginia, and American Samoa. Premiere Networks, a multistate-monitored PEP satellite station, also did not transmit any sound.

Of these seven PEPs, three relayed a weak sound; two relayed no sound. One PEP was struck by lightning just before the test, and another had a communication problem and did not receive the test.

FEMA told the FCC that it is taking action to improve the performance of the PEP. “In particular, FEMA continues to work with the SECCs in several states to conduct state-level testing on a monthly basis and station-level testing on a weekly basis through the PEP stations.”

Among non-PEP stations, the number of reported problems “has dropped significantly.”

SECC officials in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Kansas and Washington reported some local broadcast distribution channel issues.

In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the issues were specific to a widely monitored source in each state that experienced equipment setup issues on test day. “Every station engineer reports having solved the problem.”

In Georgia, the southern part of the state relies on intermediate sources such as local primaries and state relays to receive the test message. On the day of the test, the FCC said, a state relay encountered a technical issue that disrupted transmission of the alert in parts of southern Georgia. The SECC reports that the problem has been resolved.

In Kansas, a widely watched EAS participant received the alert from Premiere Networks and therefore relayed an alert that was missing audio. This participant was being watched by 41 others, 32 of whom said they also relayed an alert that lacked audio.

In Washington, the SECC reported that several stations in the eastern part of the state received and broadcast an alert message with weak and sometimes no sound.

Some other discoveries:

-The overall turnout of 75.3% was down from 78.6% in 2019. Broadcasters had a turnout of 79.9%, down from 82%.

-The number of stations which apparently do not know what type of participant it is has increased. (Types of participants include national primaries, state primaries, state relays, and local 1 and 2 primaries.) “Test participants need to better understand their role in EAS and there is still room for improvement in this regard, ”noted the FCC.

-There were 2,550 receiving test participants and 1,506 retransmission participants who reported that their stations did not receive the alert due to audio quality complications. “Many test participants reported background noise, only tones and no messages, and / or unintelligible sound. “

-There were 389 test participants who reported equipment performance issues on reception and 565 on retransmission involving non-functional equipment that required the equipment to be returned to the manufacturer. “Participants indicated that the equipment was just being repaired, had failed during the test, was missing, or was malfunctioning. “

-The participation of low power broadcasters is a matter of concern. Low power stations are required to broadcast the alert, but do not need to have equipment capable of generating the EAS codes and the attention signal. The commission had worked to improve participation in low-power radio and television, reaching out to offer targeted resources, including a webinar just for them. Still, LPFM’s participation in the test was 49.5%, much lower than that of radio as a whole and down from LPFM’s participation rate of 55.9% in 2019. Likewise, participation in the TVP (47.4%) was lower than that of all broadcasters and lower than the participation rate in 2019. Of the approximately 3,700 broadcasters who were required to file but did not do so, more than 28% were LPFMs; and of the approximately 1,500 broadcasters who were required to file but failed to do so, almost 70% were LPTVs.

NEXT STEPS

For more details, see the full EAS report.

The committee reminded EAS participants that they can reduce complications through redundant monitoring. “We continue to emphasize the importance of multiple sources of oversight, as required by our rules. We also recommend that stations located far from PEP stations consider the viability, technically and otherwise, of broadcast alert satellite sources, such as NPR Squawk Channel, Premiere Networks and SiriusXM.

The FCC also noted that it has initiated a process to improve the accessibility of visual content for alerts that are distributed through the EAS protocol and to explore other possible changes in the EAS system. “We encourage parties interested in these issues to submit their comments in this proceeding in PS 15-94. “

He also said he would continue to tweak the online forms that stations and others have to fill out after a nationwide test. It will explore how to use data from the State’s EAS plan to streamline and improve the accuracy of these ETRS repositories “for example by informing EAS participants of their EAS designations and better ensuring that they monitor sources of alert assigned to them ”.

He said he would work with the state’s emergency communications committees to ensure that the state’s EAS plans, which are due to be updated by July 5, 2022, assign sources of oversight to the participants that provide redundancy and coverage of areas that have difficulty receiving broadcast signals.

And “EAS participants can address some shortcomings with more education, continuing training and improved communication with other broadcasters and their SECC to better understand their role and obligations as an EAS participant. The FCC wrote.

“We encourage EAS participants to use this process to ensure that their EAS equipment is in good working order, confirm that they are monitoring the appropriate sources, and verify that the audio level of the alert is correct. Specifically, it is extremely important that EAS participants who are being heavily monitored use testing to ensure that their EAS equipment is in good working order.

He said participants who do not receive an alert or note any issues during a scheduled test “should work quickly and closely with their SECC to identify why and take whatever action is necessary to take corrective action.” .

The office separately released a report on the national wireless emergency alert test that was carried out on the same day. He said the WEA test “demonstrates that, overall, WEA generally works reliably, but there is room for improvement.” Many mobile devices have mistakenly received a duplicate WEA test message nationwide, he writes, “and there may be opportunities to improve the reliability of WEA.” (Read the full EAJ report.)


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