The Problem is Not Only with Emergency Managers
By Rod Zeigler
While the body of the article does bring up an important point, the solutions are well outside the purview of broadcasters, the FCC, and FEMA.
These incidents have been discussed ad nauseum on many EAS forums and it comes down to one main problem in all cases: local Emergency Managers do not have the training needed to originate meaningful alerts. They are trying to manage the emergency by coordinating responses to mitigate the emergency.
They know they need to let people know, but they do not know or understand the best way to do that. Instead, they have purchased, or have access to, tools such as Reverse 911. These tools were purchased with local tax dollars, and as such are the “go-to” techniques so that the purchase of these tools is justified. I can’t blame them for doing so. To this point there is not a comprehensive “Alerting Technique and Deployment” syllabus in any training offered by anyone.
The EM’s are inundated with vendors who offer wondrous alerting programs. These vendors then sell the product, show the EM’s how to use it, and go cash the check.
No one is teaching the EM’s when, why, who is charged with sending the alerts, and the most effective way to use these products in their jurisdictions.
That is why we have Reverse 911 that doesn’t work due to downed phone lines and other problems that arise during an active event.
I am NOT blaming EM’s completely for this. These people have budgetary and political considerations that they also have to deal with during these events. After the event they are tied up with everything involving the restoration as well as endless reports to various agencies. Without taking all of the above into consideration prior to the event, and making detailed plans that can be followed during the next event, it seems that lessons are not learned.
As far as SECC’s and LECC’s receiving support from FEMA, they are not under FEMA jurisdiction. These groups are called for by the FCC, then created and operated at the State and Local level. A little remuneration would be nice, but in today’s real world of tight finances it is unrealistic.
EAS itself is also under FCC jurisdiction, not FEMA’s. Supplying EAS equipment to individual stations should, if anything, be a State and Local function.
Remember, EAS was established by the FCC for only one purpose, to propagate EAN’s across the country. Period. State and Local agencies are allowed to use EAS for State and Local alerts, but only as a secondary service to the Federal government.
Licensed broadcasters can no longer opt-out of EAS. That option was removed at the same time that the new EAS boxes with CAP were required.
FEMA did come up with IPAWS and allows State and Local agencies to send alerts via public internet to broadcasters and cable operators, but that is a passive function, with security protocols, due to the nature of the public internet. It is not a source to be counted on when a disaster takes down the internet for a myriad of reasons. It is great on a blue sky day, but beyond that it should be the last option for sending alerts.
Yes, there were issues with alerting at almost every large disaster over the last few years.
Yes, there needs to be a comprehensive training syllabus available to EM’s.
Yes, the funding for this training needs to be made available.
The training and funding will probably be coming in the near future given the bills in Congress as well as reports by others that have targeted the lack of training, and other things, as problems that can and should be resolved in the coming months and years.
Until this happens we have to work with what we have and do our best at all levels.