By Lauren Lynch Flick, Pillsbury Law
Earlier this week, the FCC and FEMA released a final reminder that this year’s nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System will occur today, September 27, 2017 at 2:20 PM Eastern Time. The test will be transmitted in both English and Spanish and broadcasters will choose which one to air in their communities.
The agencies had reserved October 4th as a backup date for the test in the event that an emergency was ongoing that could lead to confusion around the test. They decided not to fall back on that option despite Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria recently causing much destruction. They did, however, acknowledge the disruption those events caused by giving broadcasters in the affected areas additional time to meet their various filing obligations connected to the national EAS test.
Stations unaffected by the hurricanes must file a Form 2, the day-of-test reporting form, via the FCC’s Emergency Test Reporting System by 11:59 PM Eastern Time tonight (September 27). Stations are allowed to make any corrections to their earlier-filed Form 1 submissions by that time as well. More detailed information on a station’s performance during the test, including any issues encountered, must be submitted electronically on Form 3 no later than November 13, 2017.
As noted above, broadcasters in hurricane-affected areas (Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as portions of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas) have more flexibility, and may make corrections to their Form 1, and file Form 2, as late as November 13, the national deadline for filing Form 3.
Unrelated to those Form 1, 2 and 3 filings, stations are also required to report to their State Emergency Communications Committee by November 6, 2017 any steps they have taken to distribute EAS content in languages other than English to their non-English speaking audiences. While the FCC has not mandated the precise information to be reported, it has suggested that stations provide:
- a description of the steps taken to make EAS content available to speakers of other languages;
- a description of any plans made to do so in the future, along with an explanation of why or why not; and
- any additional information that would be useful to the FCC, such as state-wide demographic information regarding languages spoken and resources used or needed to originate EAS content in languages other than English.
The State Emergency Communications Committees are then required to report this information to the FCC within six months.
This is the third nationwide EAS test, and as you would hope, each test seems to go better than the last one as bugs in the alerting chain and equipment are discovered and fixed. While some might view it as contradictory, the twin hopes of everyone involved in today’s test is that we will eventually have a perfectly functioning national alerting system, and that it will never be needed.