The Broadcasters' Desktop Resource

The Broadcasters' Desktop Resource

Creating a Redundant EAS System

Larry Wilkins
[October 2022] We all get – and we run – EAS tests each week. And most years recently we have had the National Periodic Test (NPT) in one format or another. But how certain are you that major alerts will get to all the stations in your state? Alabama’s SECC has taken on the challenge

All Broadcast engineers are fully aware of the importance of having redundancy in their technical plant.

On top of that, the Alabama State Emergency Communication Committee (SECC) has always been committed to having a fully redundant EAS origination and distribution system for all National, State and Local emergency alerts.

With that in mind, it was important for us to develop a way to ensure all stations in our state were getting EAS alerts and tests, and were able to send as required by the FCC.

HEARING INCOMING ALERTS AND TESTS

The FCC and FEMA has for a long time had policies that required all EAS participants (including broadcast and cable) to monitor two local sources capable of relaying national level alerts from the White House, plus a requirement to monitor the national Integrated Public Alert Warning System (IPAWS).

The local source monitoring is often done by a “daisy chain” relay system. While this type of relay system works in theory, in the real world it has drawbacks, mainly with the deterioration of audio quality and missed alerts.

SOLVING THE AUDIO ISSUE

Several years ago, the Alabama SECC decided to create a Satellite Network that would act as a redundant source for State and Local alerts.

At present we have 44 downlinks installed at major “local primaries” around the state, with plans in place to increase the number of downlinks during 2023. The cost of this system was funded by the Alabama Broadcast Association and various State grants – allowing the installation of the equipment at no cost to the individual stations.

The satellite system was designed especially for the Alabama SECC by Global Security Systems (GSSNet) and includes a secure web portal that allows designated State agencies to issue alerts using the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) format. The web portal also allows agencies to send the alert via the GSSNet Satellite, IPAWS, and/or WEA.

ENSURING THE SYSTEM WORKS CORRECTLY

To monitor the “health” of our distribution system, the SECC maintains an EAS monitor server that is presently monitoring 160 EAS units around the state – again at no cost to the stations.

A detailed database is kept of successful reception and, if necessary, relay of all required activations. As a service to the stations, should the database indicate a station is missing required activations, a note is sent to the station engineer. In other words, this server serves as a “second set of eyes” monitoring their EAS equipment.

Stations are made aware that this service does not replace the FCC requirement of maintaining the “Station Log” at their facility.

THE STATE PLAN

The Alabama SECC, like all other State SECC’s are required to create and submit to the FCC a new state EAS plan using a Commission approved “plan template.”

The Alabama plan was approved recently – and was the third state to have their plan approved.

One of the requirements for the Alabama plan was to develop alternate sources for the reception of a national level alert (EAN). This was required due to the fact Alabama only has one Primary Entry Point (PEP) source.

Approved sources for EAN are the National Public Radio “squawk box” NPR-1 and SiriusXM barker channel 001. The Alabama plan now has both our state relay networks monitoring NPR-1 and SiriusXM. The EAS monitoring assignment database has been updated with these NPR and SiriusXM sources. In addition, the SECC is equipping major local primary relay stations in all nine zones in the state with SiriusXM receivers, which allows our distribution network to ensure all EAS participants have access to three sources for a national level alert.

REDUNDANT

As we mentioned at the start, the Alabama SECC is committed to having a fully redundant origination and distribution EAS system.

At this time, the Committee has other projects under review to continue improvements to our system. The most important item is to have a dedicated committee, which includes all agencies that are involved in the origination and/or distribution of national and state/local emergency messages. At a minimum the committee should include representatives from the following:

State Broadcasters Association
State Cable Association (if available)
State Emergency Management Agency
National Weather Service
Technical representatives from State EAS relay networks (if available)

Together, we can be sure that in case of emergency or local disaster, we can get the key information out to the citizens of Alabama.

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Larry Wilkins is the Director of Engineering Services for the Alabama Broadcasters Association and chairman of the Alabama SECC. You can contact Larry at lwilkins@al-ba.com

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