Federal Internet Law & Policy
An Educational Project

Emergency Alert System

Dont be a FOOL; The Law is Not DIY

"This is a test of the Emergency Alert System—this is only a test…"

You will occasionally hear or see these words on your local broadcast station or cable system.

In 1951, President Harry Truman established CONELRAD (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation) as the first national alerting system. Under CONELRAD, radio stations were required to broadcast only on certain frequencies during an emergency alert. This prevented an enemy from attacking by using transmissions from broadcast stations as a guide for their target.

CONELRAD later became the "Emergency Broadcast System" (EBS). The EBS was designed to provide the President with a means to address the American people in the event of a national emergency. Through the EBS, the President had access to thousands of broadcast stations to send an emergency message to the public.

In 1994, to overcome some of the limitations of the older EBS system, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) replaced the EBS with the Emergency Alert System (EAS). The major difference between EBS and EAS is the method used to alert broadcast stations about an incoming message.

The EAS provides not only the President, but national, state and local authorities, with the ability to give emergency information to the general public via broadcast stations, cable and wireless cable systems. While participation in national EAS alerts is mandatory for these providers, state and local area EAS participation is voluntary.

FCC Fact Sheet.

Government Action

Released:  04/16/2010.  Public Safety And Homeland Security Bureau Announces Comment Dates To Respond To Public Notice Regarding Possible Revisions To The FCC's Eas Rules Upon Adoption Of The Common Alerting Protocol By The Federal Emergency Management Agency. (DA No.  10-659). (Dkt No 04-296 ). Comments Due:  05/17/2010. Reply Comments Due: 06/14/2010.  PSHSB . Contact:  Gregory M. Cooke at 2351 PDF WORD TXT

FCC TAKES ACTION TO FURTHER STRENGTHEN NATION'S EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM. The Commission adopted a proposal that strengthens the nation's Emergency Alert System (EAS). The Order promotes the development of fully digital Next Generation technologies and delivery systems that will better serve the American public. News Release. Adopted: 05/31/2007. News Media Contact: Robert Kenny at 2668, email: robert.kenny PSHSB. Contact Dana Shaffer at 0832, email: dana.shaffer or Tom Beers at 0952, email: tom.beers < >


Seek comments on proposed changes to Part 11 rules governing the Emergency Alert System to codify the obligation to process alert messages formatted in the Common Alerting Protocol and to clarify these rules generally to enhance their effectiveness. (Dkt No. 04-296 ). Action by: the Commission. Adopted: 05/25/2011 by FNPRM. (FCC No. 11-82). PSHSB  PDF WORD TXT Comment Date: [30 days after date of publication in the Federal Register] Reply Comment Date: [45 days after date of publication in the Federal Register]

Dkt No. 04-296    


The Commission also adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks comment on how the Commission can best help develop a next-generation alert and warning system that takes full advantage of digital media’s potential. The Commission seeks comment on the type of system architecture and common protocols that would be required in such a system. The Commission also asks questions regarding specific technologies, particularly, how the Commission could facilitate the effective integration of wireless technologies into a next generation alert and warning system, and whether traditional telephone companies that plan to provide high definition digital content to customers’ homes through fiber optic connections should have public alert and warning responsibilities. In addition, the Further Notice seeks comment on issues relating to the participation of state and local authorities in the EAS system.

The Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking also asks how a next generation EAS can more effectively reach individuals with hearing and vision disabilities. Finally, the Commission seeks comment on how the EAS rules should be revised to more effectively reach non-English speaking individuals. -- Public Notice

66. System architecture/message distribution.
Some commenters argue that the current distribution system is flawed, and that EAS messages should be distributed directly to media outlets. We seek comment on this assertion. Would such point-to-multi-point distribution deliver alerts more quickly to the public? Would it do so more efficiently? Many commenters, such as WTOP/WXTR, propose that a satellite-based system be used. Would such a system be effective? Should it be deployed in addition to or instead of the current system? APTS proposes that the PBS satellite system offers a model for distribution of national or state and local alerts. We seek comment on the APTS proposal. We note that the PBS satellite system is an integral part of FEMA’s Digital Emergency Alert System (DEAS) National Capital Region Pilot, and we expect to incorporate the results of that pilot into our record. We also seek comment on other distribution models. For example, given its inherent robustness, we believe the Internet should serve an important role in distribution of alerts and warnings.

67. Common protocols. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) argues that emergency alerts should flow rapidly and simultaneously through all available information conduits to first responders and the public. Should such a ubiquitous distribution be a goal of a digitally-based alert system? Most commenters agree that in order for a digitally-based alert and warning system to be distributed simultaneously over multiple platforms, a common messaging protocol must be adopted. We seek comment on this assertion. SWN Communications, Inc. contends that the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), endorsed by the PPW and many public and private organizations responsible for alerts, offers the most practical means of quickly creating an effective interface between the emergency manager and multiple emergency alert and notification systems to significantly improve national alert and warning capability. Should CAP be adopted as the common messaging protocol for any future digitally-based alert system? Should we require the adoption of CAP for EAS alerts? If CAP were to be adopted, would it allow simultaneous distribution to radio, television, and wireless media such as mobile telephones and PDAs? How would CAP be used to ensure uniformity of alerts across such multiple platforms? For example, if the White House were to issue a national message how would CAP accommodate an audio message with a shorter, text-based message appropriate for a PDA screen?

Public Notice

Order & FNPRM FCC-05-191A1.doc


Emergency Alert & Radio

Where individuals increasingly listen to portable music devices (ie., iPods), satellite radio, or webcasts, emergency alerts broadcast of local radio are ineffective.

Satellite Digital Audio Radio Service:

XM Radio has begun to partner with local jurisdictions to broadcast emergency information over its local traffic and weather stations. XM radio also has a dedicated emergency channel that can be activated in times of emergency. XM Channel 247 (as in 24 / 7)

Sirius has its Sirius Emergency System on Channel 184.