Paul S. Rotella, the state broadcasting group’s CEO, updated FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on the “antiquated” state of New Jersey’s Emergency Alert Service. He applauds the commission’s call for a national test of the EAS, but cautioned that “this national test should be viewed and used as a diagnostic tool only, given the benign neglect some parties have engaged in for decades regarding EAS.”
N.J. Broadcasters Push For Improved EAS
New Jersey Broadcasters Association President-CEO Paul S. Rotella met with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski today at the NAB Show in Las Vegas to discuss the state’s growing concerns surrounding the state of the Emergency Alert Service (EAS) in New Jersey and around the nation. “The NJBA is grateful for the opportunity to meet with the chairman and we thank both he and his fine staff for making this a reality,” he said.
Rotella expressed his hopes to Genachowski that these types of meetings with grassroots broadcasters become more institutional in nature with respect to the FCC’s operations and protocols.
Rotella said that “the NJBA Applauds the focus the FCC has placed on this important national security matter, and in particular FCC Chairman Genachowski and Homeland security Bureau Chief Admiral Jamie Barnet’s initiatives in calling for a national test of our nation’s EAS,” but cautioned that “this national test should be viewed and used as a diagnostic tool only, given the benign neglect some parties have engaged in for decades regarding EAS.
“There are well-known flaws associated with antiquated EAS in New Jersey, (and around the nation) that the NJBA has been warning state and federal authorities about for years. Thankfully, we are doing something about this, but, we need more equipment and training,” said Rotella.
The FCC has authorized a National Emergency Alert System (EAS) test to assess the current system and better determine what improvements need to be made to further strengthen the system. Although the date for the national EAS test has yet to be determined, establishing the rules is an important first step in the process.
“The NJBA has been an integral component of securing the funding and deployment of a modern, effective Emergency Alert System in the state,” Rotella said. “With the help of the NJ State Police, Governor Christie and the legislature, we understand that funding for our new EmNet EAS system has been authorized and deployment of the same should occur sometime in 2011. (The earlier the better since New Jersey’s archaic EAS is prone to failure.)
“While our antiquated equipment contributes to the problems we have in getting the alerts out efficiently, human error continues to be a source of many EAS problems in New Jersey,” Rotella added. “Better training is needed to cut down on human error. If that training is not forth coming, when EMNet is deployed, we will simply have a more expensive system for people to make mistakes on. That would be embarrassing and potentially life threatening. The NJBA continues to encourage our leaders in Trenton to focus on this component of emergency preparedness.
“One value added benefit to the selection of this particular manufacturer is that Pennsylvania, Delaware, Washington, D.C., and Maryland all use it and, if New York also acquires the same system, we will have complete interoperability of the EAS ups and down the NY/NY/DC corridor and integrated Philadelphia Metro. Created by Comlabs, it too replaces the daisy-chain relay system, which at times can produce a verbal recording that’s difficult to understand as its sound clarity degrades further down the chain. And it is CAP complaint. EMnet notes its system also allows emergency officials to distribute photos, along with an alert, to support such activations as an AMBER Alert.
“New Jersey needs much in terms of educating the public on emergency preparedness and response issues, and we are working with OEM and DHS to secure funding to provide the same through our NJBA Public Education Program (NCSA/PEP)” said Rotella.
Rotella also cited the work of the NJBA in securing a new Primary Entry Point (PEP) station to protect the millions of people who live and work in New Jersey. (Under laws going back to 1951, radio and television stations are already required to participate in the national EAS, and many stations —PEPs – have protected, governmentÃ¢â‚¬Âfunded circuits connecting them to emergency command centers in Washington and in their states. New Jersey does not have one, Rotella pointed out.)
“The NJBA has successfully lobbied Congress, FEMA and the FCC to have one installed,” said Rotella. “Now, the NJBA is joining her sister state broadcast associations to examine where ‘holes’ in our EAS and PEP infrastructure exist nationwide. This network is a core part of the federal government’s disaster communications plan. However, this whole plan crumbles if the signals don’t get out on the air — and right there we find the government’s significant interest in keeping these stations broadcasting through any disaster.
“The placement recommended by the NJBA, FCC and FEMA will insure PEP coverage in Trenton, South Jersey, and as a valued added component to expedited installation, the greater Philadelphia region, which is bereft of PEP coverage,” he added.