EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation – August 27, 2003

The Emergency Alert System
An Assessment by the Partnership for Public Warning

Kenneth B. Allen
Executive Director, Partnership for Public Warning (PPW)

Frank Lucia
PPW Board Member, PPW EAS Work Group Chair

Amy Sebring
Moderator, EIIP Technical Projects Coordinator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our homepage at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: On behalf of Avagene and myself, welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum!

Our topic today is the assessment of the Emergency Alert System that is being prepared under the auspices of the Partnership for Public Warning. The PPW is seeking public comment on the draft report which is available for download and review from http://www.partnershipforpublicwarning.org/ppw/eas.html.

Now, I am pleased to introduce today's speakers. First, we welcome back Ken Allen, Executive Director of the PPW. Ken is an accomplished executive and leader with experience as president and chief executive officer, government-relations expert and lobbyist, newspaper publisher, senior government official and management consultant. Before joining PPW, Mr. Allen was a consultant assisting non-profit organizations improve their management and operations, grow their markets and communicate their message.

We are also pleased to have with us PPW Board Member and subject matter expert, Frank Lucia. Frank retired from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in January 2001, after serving 36 years. For 24 years he was involved in the EBS and EAS. He assisted in the five year development of the EAS including the field testing of alerting systems, development of the Commission's EAS proceedings, and the authorship of 47 C.F.R. Part 11, Emergency Alert System. He received several awards from both government and industry for his achievements. For further biographical details, please see the background page.

Welcome to both of you gentlemen; we are very pleased to have you with us today. Ken, I now turn the floor over to you to start us off please.


Ken Allen: Thanks, Amy, and we are happy to be back again. For those who have not been in one of our PPW forums before, let me introduce our organization. The Partnership for Public Warning is a unique, not-for-profit, public-private partnership dedicated to improving the nation's alert and warning capabilities. PPW's partners include the private sector, local, state and federal government agencies, non-profit organizations and academic experts.

The PPW vision is that "every person will have the information needed in an emergency to save lives, prevent injury, mitigate property loss, and minimize the time needed to return to a normal life." PPW is working to achieve this vision by providing an objective, consensus-based forum where all interested stakeholders - both public and private - are working together to develop processes, standards, systems and strategies to ensure that the right people have the right information at the right time.

Membership in the Partnership for Public Warning is open to any organization or individual that is interested in public alert and warning and shares our vision.

Earlier this year the Partnership issued its "National Strategy for Integrated Public Warning Policy and Capability." Developed with the assistance of experts from both the public and private sectors, this document identifies the challenges associated with improving the nation's alert and warning capabilities and sets forth a road map for creating an effective national alert and warning system. A key element in the national strategy is the need to look at the nation's existing capabilities and build upon those legacy systems in creating a more effective national system.

The Emergency Alert System is one of America's two major alert and warning systems. The other is, of course, NOAA Weather Radio. In early 2002, the Partnership undertook to develop an assessment of the Emergency Alert System. The purpose of this assessment is to identify the current state of EAS, highlight key issues and problems, and provide recommendations regarding the future of EAS.

A working group of EAS experts was put together to develop this assessment. I am pleased to note Frank Lucia chaired this working group. With over 30 years of experience at the FCC, Frank is nationally recognized as an expert on EAS. A draft of the final report has now been released for public comment. I will turn it over to Frank now to provide further information about the draft report as it stands now.

Frank Lucia: Thanks, Ken. For background, I would first like to review the purpose of the EAS. The Emergency Alert System is one of two national systems that exist in the United States to provide alert and warning information directly to the public. The other system is the Weather Radio System operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service. Another complimentary system is the National Warning System (NAWAS) funded by FEMA.

Established in 1994, as successor to the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS), the EAS is our primary national warning system. It has two functions:

(1) It provides a method for the President to address the nation during dire national crises and,

(2) When not in use by the President, state and local officials can use it to issue short warning messages of imminent or ongoing hazards through broadcast stations and cable systems in specific regions.

Through the first 40 years of the system, the broadcast industry was the industry that worked with the government in operating the system. In the late 1990s, the cable industry became a working partner. All broadcast stations and cable systems are required to install, maintain and test FCC certified EAS equipment.

The report contains a very detailed history of EAS beginning with CONELRAD in the 1950s. It describes the various development stages the system went through including implementation and replacement of the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS). It also focuses on changes made to the system by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC adopted several regulations that affected system operations.

Other parts of the report deal with:

(1) how the system is funded, or not funded,

(2) concerns about the system,

(3) how the system works at the national, state and local levels,

(4) interaction with the National Weather Service's NOAA Weather Radio,

(5) implementing AMBER alerts and,

(6) other government programs that affect the system.

Originally the first drafts of the report contained recommendations on how to improve EAS. But because these were highly charged topics, the committee decided to not include recommendations in the draft. The recommendations section was set-aside for now. They will be discussed at a later time and be made a part of the final report.

In early 2003, after the report was nearly complete, it was decided to bring in other members of the EAS community to determine their impressions of the report and whether any areas were missing from the report. The committee membership was expanded to about 20 members who are involved in EAS or had interest in the work. They included State EAS chairs, emergency managers, and a representative from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, EAS equipment manufacturers, etc.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), now a part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is the federal agency responsible for funding the national level EAS. The FCC is the regulatory agency responsible enforcing the regulations that affect EAS operations. NWS is a third partner that uses EAS as a means to disseminate weather warnings to the public. These three agencies all have a role in supporting EAS, but no one agency has overall responsibility for the system. This is one of the areas of concern highlighted in the report.

Government leadership and support has diminished. No one government agency is in charge of the system. Areas of concern include outdated EAS plans, missing communication links, and lack of training and equipment for emergency managers.

In addition, the system of primary entry points (PEP) cannot be monitored reliably by all of the entry points for the state level EAS networks. Also, the major networks, national cable program suppliers and other national networks are not part of the national level EAS.

EAS distribution methods have perhaps the greatest potential for security concerns. The system as it exists today uses a wide variety of distribution links arranged in an uncoordinated and sometimes-complex architecture that is specified in State and local EAS plans. There is a concern about physical security and unauthorized use of the system at EAS activation sites. Thousands of station operators have been trained in the use of the encoders ranging from part time interns to chief engineers. Most operators have been taught to use the equipment without any form of background investigation.

Finally, there is no concerted government/industry effort that combines EAS and other alerting techniques with existing and new technologies to form a combined warning system. In addition to radio, television and cable, people now have wired and wireless Internet, cell phones, pagers, etc.

The EAS system is now being asked to play a significant role in our national warning strategy. Lack of federal coordination, as well as a source of assured funding at any level necessary to allow for a reasonable level of control and scrutiny over a critical unmanaged and voluntary system contribute to valid security issues and concerns.

We hope you will read the full draft report, and send us your comments and recommendations. I will now turn it back over to Ken for the particulars.

Ken Allen: Thanks, Frank. Just a final word about how you can participate in this process. Comments are due to PPW by September 5, 2003. Comments may be provided to PPW using the email forum on the PPW web site or by sending the comments to [email protected].

PPW is especially interested in public comments regarding the recommendations that should be made about the future of EAS, as Frank mentioned. Copies of the PPW national strategy and the EAS assessment may be downloaded from the PPW web site at http://www.PartnershipforPublicWarning.org.

Additional information on PPW can be obtained by contacting PPW at Partnership for Public Warning, 7515 Colshire Drive, MS N655, McLean, VA 22102. Phone: (703) 883-2745. Fax: (703) 883-3689. Email: [email protected] .

We will now be happy to respond to your questions, and we would also like to hear about your local or state experience with the system. With that, I will turn it back to our Moderator to get us started.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Ken and Frank.

[Audience Questions & Answers]


Steven Williams: Gentlemen, I am in an area that uses EAS as our primary public notification system and I can say that it works well. The relationship between the broadcasters and the locals is critical. Without the broadcasters active participation the system will be a bust. We understand our broadcasters concerns regarding lost airtime and incorrect use of the system but we try to work together to solve our differences and learn from our mistakes. Are there any other regions that are having good luck with EAS?

Ben Green: Hello, I am the Program Coordinator for California's EAS & the SECC Executive Secretary. Yes, we have had good luck with EAS. It is because of good coordination between all stakeholders.

Frank Lucia: Yes, California has saved 44 children through AMBER/EAS. I agree regular participation is a must.


Burt Wallrich: Frank, I'm sure you're familiar with the 2-1-1 dialing code from your time with the FCC. After 9/11 there were several assessments that said where 2-1-1 existed it was effective in getting out information and reassurance, and it should be implemented universally as part of anti-terrorism measures. Is 2-1-1 included in the PPW draft report? (I would know the answer if I had reviewed the report. Sorry.)

Frank Lucia: It is not discussed other than as another type of system to use in the warning area.


Ed Kostiuk: As the State's EM in Health, I run across Rural communities that have an EAS system dated 1950/60. What time frame do you see this draft being implemented by? What can I tell these Rural EM we are doing for them and how long it might take?

Frank Lucia: EAS involves new equipment mandated in 1997. So new procedures are needed.

Ken Allen: There are two issues involved here. The first is to find someone to take responsibility for EAS. We are working with several federal agencies, FCC, DHS, NOAA, etc. and believe that there is a good chance to find that leader in the near future. Assuming we can achieve that goal, we believe it is possible to see significant improvements in EAS -- and the entire national alert and warning capability in 24 to 36 months.


Greg MacDonald: Have you considered simply starting with a fresh slate rather than continually trying to cobble the existing system back together?

Frank Lucia: The trouble is the broadcasters and cable operators have a lot invested in EAS equipment. It would be very difficult to get them to buy, install, etc. a new system.


Don Heppelmann: I am the Minnesota SECC Co-Chair. I read the report and it sums EAS up very well. Thanks to PPW for it. When can we expect to read about the committee upgrading recommendations?

Ken Allen: Frank's working group is now working on recommendations and we are awaiting public comment on recommendations. The goal is for the PPW Board of Trustees to review the report in late September. So the current plan is to have the final report -- with recommendations -- available in October.


Steve Winters: In the recent blackout, text messaging stayed up and worked the entire time, even when voice calls could not get through. What consideration has been given to using some form of cell phone messaging?

Frank Lucia: The cell phone industry can voluntarily participate in EAS or in any other way. It is up to them.

Ken Allen: But this is where we need leadership to bring the players together to build a national capability using all available technologies.


Janet Buchwald: I am asking the same question as Greg. Have you considered taking a fresh slate? EAS is 40+ years old. Lifestyles have changed considerably. Most people are not sitting in front of a TV or radio station when a terrible catastrophe happens. They turn to broadcast after the event has occurred. In other words, most people are extremely mobile today. Technology today has unveiled multiple (and sophisticated) warning systems that are not broadcast oriented. And technology is changing so rapidly.

Ken Allen: To keep or toss EAS is the big question. However, you don't want to discard it until you have something else in place. PPW has developed a national strategy to create that new capability, but it will take some time to implement. In the meantime, we need to use the systems we have to warn people. I expect that we will see an evolution to an entirely new capability over the coming years.

Frank Lucia: The bottom line is to try to use what you now have.


Greg MacDonald: The problem from our perspective is not getting the message out from the broadcasters, it’s getting the emergency message TO the broadcasters. Why shouldn't this be the responsibility of the government rather than the broadcasters?

Frank Lucia: Good question. Broadcasters should not be warning message originators. It is up to local officials to work with industry so that THEIR messages are re-transmitted by industry.


Christopher Effgen: Have any risk/threat management studies been performed to show what kind of savings might accrue if the system that you envision was operational?

Ken Allen: Not that I am aware of but you have to understand, until the past year, few in Washington DC were paying any attention to EAS or any alert and warning issues.

Frank Lucia: Any new system will cost, plus require training, etc.


Steven Williams: Gents, with the work that Art Bottrell (et al) have done with the CAP, is EAS currently flexible enough to utilize future technologies?

Frank Lucia: CAP can easily interface with EAS as long as equipment/software are in place. The same is true of NOAA Weather Radio.

Ken Allen: Art is working on a proposal to develop an EAS relay network using CAP.


Jenny Holt: To what sort of future alert system are you referring--and what kind of capabilities will it have? Correct me if I am wrong, but telecom companies wouldn't have to be vital participants if the correct technology were in place to access the telecom user.

Frank Lucia: There is no be all and end all. Warning needs to have the existing systems work as one along with the integration of the Internet, cell phones, broadcast/cable.


Steve Winters: This is not meant to be a commercial, but we own a cell phone messaging system, AlertAmericaOnline, that has been up and running for two years. Where do I go to offer our services free Nationwide? I just want to see a system in place that works until we have something better.

Ken Allen: There is a lot more to warning than just picking one technology but we appreciate the offer. At a minimum, I suggest you get involved with the Partnership for Public Warning.

Frank Lucia: You can start locally in an area to demonstrate your technology. DHS is overwhelmed with offers.


Gilbert Gibbs: As near as I can tell, all the integration for "public alerts" needs to be developed, and that's a lot of time to beg for. Technology won't stand still for micro-management.

Frank Lucia: We have to work with the devices/systems that consumers use.


Don Heppelmann: Is there any movement to get DirecTV and Dish DBS providers to provide a national (local?) level EAS?

Frank Lucia: They can voluntarily participate in EAS but none have. There are no FCC regulations on them.


Mark Wood: I am working on the cell alert cell broadcast programme right now; it has mass messaging capability. However it does have the disadvantage that it can only reach people who have cell phones, so we still need all the methods we can get.

Frank Lucia: Same for cell phones.

Ken Allen: You're absolutely right.


Greg Ek-Collins: We are in Orange County Florida and are using three different methods right now to get the word to our citizens: EAS, NWS and a reverse calling system. It can be time consuming to get them all activated but is better than what we used to have in place. Is there anything new on the horizon that may integrate these technologies?

Frank Lucia: CAP may be able to. NWS must get funds, etc.

Amy Sebring: Yes, for those of you who missed our previous CAP session, this is the Common Alerting Protocol. We have a the transcript in our archives. These go hand in hand, right Ken?

Ken Allen: Right. You can get more on CAP from the PPW web site.


Greg MacDonald: Have you looked into any systems like EMNet? What is your opinion of it? Pennsylvania has, I understand, used it extensively with little trouble. This is satellite delivery to a terminal with land and Internet backup

Frank Lucia: EMNet is another way to interface with EAS. It uses satellite as the distribution system. There is an initial cost for EMNet plus monthly charges.

Ken Allen: There are a number of excellent systems out there. PPW doesn't endorse specific technologies, but one of our goals is to collect data on all existing technologies so comparative analyses can be made.


Jenny Holt: What steps has PPW taken to integrate private industry into public sector solutions, since through their research and development, companies have most of the tech answers to alert notification issues?

Ken Allen: PPW's major goal is to bring together the public and private sectors. We have made tremendous progress in that regard. Experts from both the private sector and government have participated in the EAS assessment and the national strategy. The biggest challenge has been getting some of the key federal agencies (such as DHS) to recognize that there is value in a public-private partnership.


Amy Sebring: My question has to do with the current flap at the FCC with the consolidation controversy. I am thinking this issue may have a bearing on EAS implementation as more local stations are taken over by national owners. Do you see any implications, Frank?

Frank Lucia: Big ownership has advantages and disadvantages. Clear Channel, Infinity, etc. are all upgrading their EAS equipment. Small stations may not have those resources.


Amy Sebring: Thank you very much, Ken and Frank. Please stand by a moment while we make some quick announcements

If you are not currently on our mailing list, and would like to get program announcements and notices of transcript availability, please see the Subscribe link on our home page.

Again, the transcript will be posted later this afternoon and you will be able to access it from our home page. We encourage you to participate in the PPW’s EAS Assessment process.

If your organization is interested in becoming an EIIP Partner, please see the Partnership link on our home page.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. Our session is adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to our speakers for a fine job!