No doubt you have seen or heard a local
test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on broadcast
TV, radio or on a cable system. However, this
Wednesday, Nov. 9 — at 2 p.m. Eastern Time
— the Federal Emergency Management Association
and the Federal Communications
Commission will run the first-ever nationwide
test of something called a Presidential
Emergency Action Notification over the EAS.
Sound impressive? It is. This EAS function
enables the president of the United States to virtually
throw a switch and transmit an emergency
notification through almost every TV station,
radio station and multichannel video provider
in the nation — right to you and me. This firstever
test, therefore, is critical to our homeland
security infrastructure. That’s why it behooves
us in cable — both systems and programmers
— to work diligently to educate consumers about the upcoming
test and lessen any potential confusion.
EAS, of course, is the national public warning system
used to address the American public during emergencies.
Most of the time, it’s used by state or local authorities to deliver
important emergency information, such as weather
information and Amber Alerts targeted to a specific area.
During an alert such as the one planned for this week,
the EAN message itself is set by the federal government.
Cable systems are required to pass through the message
to their viewers. This test will last about 30 seconds. And
yes, that means it will pre-empt all regularly scheduled cable
programming during that period. Cable customers will
see a special EAS channel regardless of the cable channel
they’re watching. An audio feed from the federal government
during the event will advise viewers that it’s only a
test. In many cases, however, the on-screen message will
only announce the Emergency Action Notification. So it’s
up to us to step up consumer education efforts
and reassure viewers that it’s only a test.
We’re gratified that many in the cable industry
are airing public service announcements to
raise viewer awareness. Cable systems are using
invoice messages to alert consumers. The
NCTA has talked to groups such as the Cable
Center Customer Care Committee, as well as
state and regional cable associations, to ensure
that cable leaders at all levels are aware of the
significance of the exercise.
Programmers also have pledged to help educate
about the test. Many cable networks will
air messages immediately before and after the
2 p.m. ET test, which is especially important in
reaching those watching TV at the time.
Cable’s message to consumers is clear: This is just a
test of the system, and no action is required. Our message
to government and all those focused on public
safety and homeland security also is clear: We’ll do our
part in conveying timely information from our government
in the event of a national emergency.
An end-to-end nationwide test of the system is critical
to assess the reliability and effectiveness of EAS as
a public alert mechanism. Cable is making every effort
to help ensure the test is a success.
Rick Chessen is senior vice president of law and regulatory
policy at the National Cable & Telecommunications