There is something like two weeks left until the deadline for installing CAP compliant EAS equipment. No, this time they really mean it!
I have installed a few of the new SAGE ENDEC boxes at various clients. They do have one common problem; audio input levels. The newer blue faced SAGE units are much more sensitive than the older units. The existing audio input levels connected to older EAS units need to be adjusted downward nearly 100% of the time. SAGE Alerting Systems has a bulletin about it: SAGE Alerting Systems Audio Levels.
In addition to that, SAGE Alerting Systems has released CAP compliant firmware, available at: Updates for digital SAGE ENDEC
Lots of ink has been spilled about the new CAP (Common Alert Protocol) implementation and what it all means. Since the FCC started the six month CAP clock ticking on September 30th of last year, they have extended the deadline by six months to September 30, 2011.
The idea of upgrading EAS is a good one. When EAS replaced EBS in 1997 it was supposed to do away with the over the air relay system also known as the daisy chain. This was left over from the 1960’s CONELRAD system implemented by Kennedy. That replacement never occurred and stations today are still monitoring other broadcasting stations for their EAS alerts. The daisy chain was and still is the source of all EBS and EAS failures.
CAP is supposed to eliminate that weak link by allowing the EAS unit to access government IPAWS message servers directly, allowing FEMA to automatically send out alert messages to designated areas. This has some libertarians in an uproar, as they see government intrusion and taking over privately owned radio stations to broadcast emergency information as a form of tyranny. In as much as the definition of “emergency message” has not been codified by FEMA in any of their information, they may have a point. In the past, the general definition of emergency communications were those that were pertaining to imminent threats to the safety of life and property. According to Executive Order 13407, Public Alert and Warning System, the purpose is to:
…have an effective, reliable, integrated, flexible, and comprehensive system to alert and warn the American people in situations of war, terrorist attack, natural disaster, or other hazards to public safety and well-being…
Which is certainly much more broad in scope. How does one define a hazard to “well-being?”
SAGE alerting systems have completely revamped their ENDEC to include CAP 1.2. It uses the internet to connect to IPAWS servers and receive CAP messages. As the SAGE ENDEC owners manual notes, participation in local and state level alerts are at the discretion of the station management, as regulated by the current version of FCC Part 11. National level participation is manditory:
Participation at the national level is mandatory for most broadcasters. You may petition the FCC to become a “Non Participating National” station, but you must still receive and broadcast the EAN code, and then leave the air. These requirements are always evolving, refer to the FCC rules, in particular CFR 47 Part 11 for details.
Often times, it is the local emergencies that are greatest and most immediate threats to human life; the tornado, the tsunami, etc. Those are the most pressing threats, not the national level alerts, which were implemented in the 1960’s to warn of a major attack from a foreign country, something not very likely these days.
Further, the internet has proved to be less than reliable when trouble occurs. During the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001, dial tone, cellphone and internet service for much of lower Manhattan were disrupted because the TELCO facilities were in the buildings that were destroyed. Most internet services rely on wired or fiber optic services provided by TELCO or cable company, which can be effected by power outages, damaged infrastructure and so on, which would likely occur in a major emergency.
It does not seem to be the most robust method for distribution of emergency messages.
Since the FCC started the CAP clock ticking on September 30th, there has be a flurry of activity regarding the manufacture and installation of CAP equipment. CAP is integrated into something called IPAWS, which stands for Integrated Public Alert and Warning System. In other words, CAP is the vehicle that IPAWS uses to get information broadcast through radio, TV, Cable systems, etc. IPAWS encompasses all alert types include cellphone, texting, e-mail, and land line phone calling. Many states, including New York State, already do this. FEMA spells out the reason for IPAWS:
The advent of new media has brought a dramatic shift in the way the public consumes information. IPAWS, as the next generation emergency alert and warning system, capitalizes on multiple electronic media outlets to ensure that the public receives life-saving information during a time of national emergency.
Historically, the public depended exclusively on radio and television to receive alerts, but current research shows that the reach of radio and TV is less than 40% of the populace during the work day. While less than 12% of the population is watching TV in the middle of the night, an even smaller number is tuned into the radio, at 5% of the populace. Television and radio will continue to be valuable sources of public information, but their reach is decreasing. Further, these information sources can only target a state or regional sized area and do not encompass alerting for people who do not speak English or those with disabilities, including the 29 million suffering from hearing impairment.
Today, the internet, including video and email, and cellular and residential phones are increasingly popular and therefore, valuable, sources of information. One study showed that the Internet has a 62% usage rate, averaging at 108 minutes a day. While television remains the most popular source for information, the Internet ranked either first or second at both work and home.
CAP figures into this by acting as a method to move data between IPAWS and EAS. The basic CAP converter polls a CAP server, somewhere, for messages. When a message for a geographic area is received, the CAP converter processes it and converts it to an EAS format, which is then sent via high level audio to the station’s EAS encoder decoder unit. The EAS unit receives the information and then has the final say (or station personnel, if the EAS unit is in manual) as to whether the EAS message gets transmitted.
FEMA will be setting up a national CAP server in the next month or so, expect an announcement from them in November. Each state can also set up a CAP server for state and local government use. This will be implemented on a state by state basis. Currently, there is no information on the New York State Emergency Management Office’s (NY SEMO) website, hopefully they are aware of all of this and will be updating there system shortly.
The CAP converters installed in individual stations will access the CAP servers via secure HTTP connections. They will also be able to download software updates from the manufactures via the same method.