With the nationwide EAS test fast approaching, the FCC has yet to unveil the electronic reporting format it promised last February – but that doesn’t stop US from providing a look-see

Two weeks and one day to go — and counting down. Counting down, that is, to the first ever nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS). This is a Big Deal, as the FCC has made a big point of telling us. One of the primary goals of the exercise is to determine whether the nationwide EAS will actually work as planned. (Let’s not forget that it’s never been fully tested during its 15 years of existence.) To that end, when the Commission formally committed itself to the Big Test last February, the Commission emphasized that it would require all EAS participants to report back on their experiences during the test. The Commission even promised to set up a spiffy on-line reporting system that would facilitate the reporting process. In early February (that would be eight, nearly nine, months ago), the Commission promised that “we will shortly be releasing a public notice establishing a voluntary electronic reporting system that EAS test participants may use as part of their participation in the national EAS test.”

“Shortly”? To date (that would be October 25), no such public notice has been released, even though the national EAS test is still scheduled for November 9. 

No problem. We here at CommLawBlog have what you want: a preview of what the FCC’s electronic reporting requirement will likely entail.

The nitty gritty of what the FCC wants reported is no surprise. As listed in its February 3, 2011 Third Report and Order, the Feds want EAS participants to report:

  • whether they received the alert message during the designated test;
  • whether they retransmitted the alert;
  • if they were not able to receive and/or transmit the alert, their ‘best effort’ diagnostic analysis regarding the cause(s) for such failure;
  • a description of their station identification and level of designation (PEP, LP-1, etc.);
  • the date/time of receipt of the EAN message by all stations; the date/time of PEP station acknowledgement of receipt of the EAN message to FOC;
  • the date/time of initiation of actual broadcast of the Presidential message;
  • the date/time of receipt of the EAT message by all stations;
  • who they were monitoring at the time of the test, and the make and model number of the EAS equipment that they utilized.

The Commission also anticipated that broadcast stations would provide their station call letters, license identification number, geographic coordinates, EAS assignment (LP, NP, etc), EAS monitoring assignment, as well as a 24/7 emergency contact for the EAS Participant . In the Commission’s view, all of this information is readily available to each participant, so it shouldn’t impose much of a burden to log and report it.

But how is it to be reported? As originally proposed, the Commission merely indicated that it wanted the data to be submitted, but laid out no particular form or format. Presumably they were thinking of some kind of paper filing – totally retro. In finally adopting that somewhat vague approach, though, the FCC acknowledged the desirability of electronic filing and indicated that e-filing would be preferred. As noted above, they were going to get the details on the e-filing option out “shortly”.

That hasn’t happened yet. But we at CommLawBlog have managed to track down some screen grabs of what the FCC has in mind for electronic reporting relative to the nationwide EAS test. We hasten to note that these have not (at least as of noon on October 25) been officially released by the Commission. But they’re the samples that the FCC shipped over to the Office of Management and Budget for its approval back in September – and that OMB approved on October 14 – so we’re pretty sure that this is what the FCC contemplates. When (and whether) the FCC itself will let the rest of us in on its plans remains to be seen.

Why has the FCC taken so long to deal with the e-filing option that was, as of eight-nine months ago, supposed to be made available “shortly”? It appears that somebody at the FCC may have overlooked the need to get OMB approval for the e-filing form. That need arises from (wait for it) the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA). As we all know by now, the PRA process involves an initial 60-day comment period at the FCC, followed by a 30-day comment period at OMB. The problem is that the FCC didn’t start the initial 60-day comment period relative to the electronic reporting option until August 23. Let’s see – 30 days hath . . . oops, the initial 60-day period would have taken until October 22, and the remaining 30-day period would end up weeks after the November 9 nationwide test.

The Commission apparently focused on this chronological problem in mid-September, at which point it hustled down to OMB with a request for “emergency processing” in order to get the new e-filing system in place by “mid-October”. OMB complied with that request and managed to get its approval out the door on October 14. Why we haven’t heard anything from the Commission on this in the meantime is a mystery.

In any event, this minor snafu relative to the reporting aspect of the nationwide EAS test will almost certainly not alter the schedule for the test. November 9 is still the date, and all EAS participants should be prepared to join in and, afterwards, let the Commission know how it all went down.

And while we’re on the subject of EAS generally, here’s a CommLawBlog shout-out for FEMA’s “Emergency Alert System Best Practices Guide (Version 1.0)”, released a couple of weeks ago. This is the guide that FEMA has been compiling with input from a wide range of folks, including multiple state broadcasting associations. (Back in August and September we reported on a couple of FEMA’s “virtual roundtables” which were used to develop the guide.) Although still a work in progress – FEMA stresses that it will be updated “frequently”; FEMA also encourages input from all sectors of the “EAS Community” – it’s well worth down-loading and reviewing. It provides a reasonably comprehensive overview of the EAS process and the practical considerations that each EAS participant should focus on to be sure that its own EAS system, including both equipment and personnel, is properly set up and ready to roll. With the nationwide EAS test just around the corner, now would be a good time to check this out.