EAS/CAP FAQ

From: Radiomagonline.com,

Oct 8, 2010 1:00 PM, By Barry Thomas, CPBE CBNT, with Chriss Scherer, editor

Now that FEMA has adopted the CAP1.2 standard, broadcasters are asking questions about the 180-day deadline to install equipment and updates to the EAS rules. Those heavily involved with EAS note that it is not easy to give specific answers because so much is in flux. However, the questions still remain, and Radio magazine has assembled this FAQ to help you answer questions from station management.

This is a work in progress, and we will add to it and update it as needed. If you have a question to add, tell us (radio@RadioMagOnline.com) and we’ll include it and find an answer.

Has the “180-day clock” specified in the FCC’s Second Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (EB Docket 04-296) and included in 11.56 of the FCC Rules started?
Most experts think yes, although a number of parties are requesting further clarification. Based on the prevailing interpretation of information from FEMA, OASIS, and FCC, stations must be compliant with the NPRM on or before March 30, 2011.

If there is to be a delay of the deadline will most likely be ordered by the FCC, although a delay is not assured.

What is the minimum requirement for stations to comply?
At the very minimum:
1) Stations must be able to receive messages delivered using the CAP 1.2 data protocol.
2) Messages sent by the governor or someone he/she designates received by stations in a method specified by the State EAS Plan and put on the air immediately.

No other requirements are specified.

What is the recommended way for stations to comply?
Stations should be prepared to incorporate emergency messages delivered by the CAP protocol into their EAS systems, logging and plans. This means a station’s current EAS encoder/decoder should either be capable of receiving and reacting to CAP messages, or there should be a device that can be added to a current EAS unit to inject messages delivered using CAP into it. Either way, the station’s EAS unit should react appropriately.

How can a station receive and decode CAP messages with EAS equipment?
Stations will need to have a device or system capable of receiving messages using the CAP protocol. At this time, most EAS equipment manufacturers can either provide or are in the process of developing devices to decode CAP. Some have the capability to incorporate the CAP messages into a station’s EAS capabilities, although that integration is not part of this specific ruling.

For a station to receive CAP messages it may simply be a matter of having a computer that can receive and decode the message. For example, The National Weather Service is currently using CAP and its messages can be decoded using the NWS ATOM feed http://www.weather.gov/alerts-beta/

What is CAP?
In plain English, it’s simply a protocol — a format, so to speak — that will be used to distribute emergency messages. It’s the chosen common language the emergency communications community will be using from now on.

According to this document, drafted partially by former SBE EAS Committee Member Art Botterell: (www.oasis-open.org/committees/download.php/14759/emergency-CAPv1.1.pdf)

The Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) is a simple but general format for exchanging all-hazard emergency alerts and public warnings over all kinds of networks. CAP allows a consistent warning message to be disseminated simultaneously over many different warning systems, thus increasing warning effectiveness while simplifying the warning task. CAP also facilitates the detection of emerging patterns in local warnings of various kinds, such as might indicate an undetected hazard or hostile act. And CAP provides a template for effective warning messages based on best practices identified in academic research and real-world experience.

CAP messages can contain not just data, like the SAME protocol broadcasters are familiar with, but also audio, video, text and other types of information.

Does this mean the “duck quacks” (the EAS SAME tones stations use now) will change or go away?
Nothing changes with what stations must send. Even EAS isn’t changing…yet. In fact, it is expected that the current EAS system will not be changed, but a separate, CAP-capable data distribution system will be added to EAS plans.

There will need to be an approved “translation” of messages carried using extensive CAP protocol into the EAS SAME protocol “language.” This is something of a digital Rosetta Stone, if you will. This is referred to as the CAP/EAS “profile” and has not yet been officially agreed upon.

Where will stations get CAP messages?
This is one of the many decisions that has not been resolved. Experts believe that CAP messages will be delivered via a TCP/IP path, which may be the public Internet or a dedicated IP data path.

Current plans indicate that transmission from FEMA to broadcasters will be by means of the existing IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, www.fema.gov/emergency/ipaws) SOAP interface using the IPAWS-OPEN (Open Platform for Emergency Networks, www.fema.gov/emergency/ipaws/projects.shtm#6) as an aggregator.

It is widely believed that IPAWS-OPEN will be available for testing by a limited group of originators not later than Feb. 28, 2011. There will be no accountability for IPAWS alerts to EAS. Originator credentials will be issued to organizations and shared among their staff. FEMA will be the issuer, but the procedure for issuing credentials is undefined at this time.

This is a good wiki on CAP developments: www.incident.com/cookbook/index.php/Welcome_to_the_CAP_Cookbook.

What’s this I heard about messages from the Governor?
FCC Rule 11.55 requires state governors or his/her designee to be able to have his/her message aired on all participating stations. Most broadcasters understand that the purpose of EAS is, ultimately, to provide a means for the President to speak to the entire United States at once using the EAS system as the means. Although this has never been used, that same capability is being conferred to allow governors to speak to their states.

Where this relates to the current change is that CAP provides the means where such a message can be sent. Remember CAP can carry audio and video messages as well as the text of a message.

Unfortunately, there are more currently more questions than answers in this area. Read on.

What’s the problem with keeping to the 180-day timetable?
That’s not an easy question but put as simply as possible, the Society of Broadcast Engineers and many broadcasters are concerned that stations will be required to purchase equipment capable of CAP with no assurance that the equipment will comply with required, imminent and inevitable FCC rule changes that will make the next generation emergency communications system possible. Part 11 of the FCC Rules, covering EAS, has not been changed to incorporate CAP in any way, but this is sure to occur very soon, now that FEMA has approved the use of CAP 1.2. Unfortunately, EAS equipment available now may comply with the current rules but may NOT comply with the new FCC rules.

There are concerns that stations will, after purchasing equipment to comply with this rule will be required to spend more money and time to comply with the imminent FCC Rule changes.

Here’s a sampling of what hasn’t been determined yet:

  • What will stations need to do when they receive CAP messages?
  • What do my stations monitor for CAP?
  • How will CAP messages be logged?
  • What will be the approved mapping of codes from a CAP delivered emergency message to an EAS message (will the EAN code mean the same thing in CAP as EAS?)
  • How will stations actually receive their CAP messages?
  • If the CAP messages will be sent using the public Internet, what about stations that cannot get an Internet connection?
  • What security measures will be used so that hackers won’t be able to take control of broadcast stations and emergency networks?
  • How can governors send their messages to stations?
  • How will state plans be changed?
  • What data codes will be used so that EAS boxes know that a message is coming from a governor AND that it is a “must air” message like an EAN?

Wow! So what am I supposed to do now?
The best advice is to contact EAS/CAP equipment suppliers and become familiar with the options available. Assuming your stations are in compliance with your EAS Plan, you should be planning to essentially add a new monitoring source to include CAP emergency messages to your current assignments. It is expected that the current EAS system (including the daisy chain included in many operational plans) will not change, but a separate, CAP-capable data distribution system will be added to EAS plans.If you decide to purchase equipment now, ensure that the equipment is field-upgradable by software, flash or other means to comply with the many upcoming rule changes.

While it’s important to be informed and cautious, the decision and action to purchase and install CAP-capable equipment should not be put off until the very end of the FCC’s specified installation clock. Doing so will result in dealing with the logistical problems of manufacturers that will be supplying new equipment to every radio and television station and cable and satellite head-end all at once. DO NOT ASSUME THE DEADLINE WILL BE EXTENDED! Although there are many groups seeking to extend the deadline until FCC Part 11 rules are changed and equipment can be certified as in compliance, it would be unwise to rely on an unknown without fully understanding the circumstance and preparing an alternate, if temporary method of complying with the current law.

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