The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and All-Hazard Warnings
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is built on a structure conceived in the 1950’s when over-
the-air broadcasting was the best-available technology for widely disseminating emergency alerts.
It is one of several federally managed warning systems. The Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) jointly administers EAS with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC),
in cooperation with the National Weather Service (NWS), an organization within the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NOAA/NWS weather radio system has
been upgraded to an all-hazard warning capability. Measures to improve the NOAA network and
the new Digital Emergency Alert System (DEAS) are ongoing. The Department of Homeland
Security (DHS), working with the Association of Public Television Stations, is implementing a
program that will disseminate national alert messages over digital broadcast airwaves, using
satellite and public TV broadcast towers. This program, referred to as the Integrated Public Alert
and Warning System (IPAWS), is part of the Department’s response to an Executive Order
requiring the Secretary of Homeland Security to meet specific requirements for an alert system as
part of U.S. policy.
Legislation was passed at the end of the 109th Congress (the Warning, Alert, and Response
Network Act, or WARN Act, as signed into law as Title VI of P.L. 109-347) to assure funding to
public televison stations to install digital equipment to handle national alerts. The law also
required the establishment of a committee to provide the FCC with recommendations regarding
the transmittal of emergency alerts by commercial mobile service providers to their subscribers.
Committee recommendations provided the structure for a Commercial Mobile Alert System
(CMAS). In addition to presidential alerts, which clearly are a federal responsibility, the service
would transmit emergency alerts generated by state, local, and other non-federal authorities.
In the 110th Congress, S. 1223 (Senator Landrieu) and its companion bill, H.R. 2331
(Representative Melancon), would authorize funds to strengthen the radio broadcasting
infrastructure that supports the Emergency Alert System. It would also provide for a pilot
Broadcast Disaster Preparedness Grant Program. H.R. 2787 (Representative Ellsworth) would
require the installation of weather radios in new manufactured (mobile) homes. H.R. 2787,
known as CJ’s Law, was passed by the House and is awaiting action in the Senate. Three bills
would place statutory requirements on the development of IPAWS and would authorize funding
to implement the program and conduct pilot tests. These are the Integrated Public Alert and
Warning System Modernization Act of 2008 (H.R. 6038, Graves); the Alerting Lives Through
Effective and Reliable Technological Systems (ALERTS) Act (H.R. 6392, Cuellar), which also
addresses federal participation in operating parts of the CMAS alerting capability; and the
Disaster Response, Recovery, and Mitigation Enhancement ACT (H.R. 6658, Oberstar). H.R.
6658 contains provisions covering a wide range of FEMA activities; in addition to reiterating the
IPAWS provisions of H.R. 6038, the bill would create an advisory committee to make
recommendations to FEMA concerning IPAWS and report to Congress on the committee’s
Alerting Individuals with Disabilities and Others with Special Needs.....................................4
NOAA Weather Radio.....................................................................................................................5
All-Hazard Warning Technology.....................................................................................................5
Common Alerting Protocol.......................................................................................................5
Department of Homeland Security............................................................................................6
Digital Emergency Alert System...............................................................................................6
Proposals and Programs..................................................................................................................7
Executive Order: Public Alert and Warning System.......................................................................8
Legislation in the 109th Congress: The WARN Act.........................................................................8
Commercial Mobile Service Alert Advisory Committee........................................................10
Commercial Mobile Alert System...........................................................................................10
Legislation in the 110th Congress...................................................................................................11
Author Contact Information..........................................................................................................13
he two mainstays of the U.S. capacity to issue warnings are the Emergency Alert System
(EAS), which relies primarily on broadcasting media, and the NOAA Weather Radio All-
Hazards Network. The National Weather Service (NWS) of the National Oceanic and 1T
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sends alerts through NOAA Weather Radio (NWR), now
expanded to include warnings for all hazards. Several initiatives are underway within the federal
government to improve, expand, and integrate existing warning systems. The most important of
these—in terms of using, testing and developing leading-edge technology—is the Integrated
Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), a public-private partnership in which the Department
of Homeland Security (DHS) has a leadership role. Many communities, meanwhile, are installing
local alert systems that send voice, text messages, and e-mail. Many agree that the long-term goal
for emergency alerts is to converge federal warning systems into an integrated network that can
interface with localized warning systems and also call centers, such as those used for 911 and 211 2
In response to a requirement in the Warning, Alert, and Response Network Act, or WARN Act, as
signed into law (Title VI of P.L. 109-347), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
worked with commercial mobile service providers to create a Commercial Mobile Alert System
(CMAS) that would be able to relay alerts through cell phones. In addition to presidential alerts,
which clearly are a federal responsibility, the service would transmit emergency alerts generated
by state, local, and other non-federal authorities. The National Continuity Programs Directorate,
within the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), has accepted the 3
responsibility of acting as a gateway and aggregator of alerts for dissemination through CMAS.
The National Continuity Programs Directorate is currently responsible for implementing IPAWS.
As will be discussed in this report, the Emergency Alert System relies on many partners. The role
of the federal government has been to lead by reason of its prime responsibility to assure
presidential alerts for national disasters. Alerts and warnings at the state and local level are
disseminated through a number of information channels; the broadcasting of these alerts by
television and radio stations is voluntary. The National Response Framework (NRF) emphasizes
the separate roles of state and local agencies and other non-federal entities in disseminating 4
alerts. There do not appear to be any efforts at the federal level to coordinate NRF planning for
alerts and post-disaster information with State Emergency Communications Committees
(SECCs). The differentiation between responsibilities to be assumed by federal agencies and
those of state/tribal/local authorities has in many cases led to problems with coordination, and
uneven effectiveness, of EAS utilization from state to state. There have been expectations among
state emergency managers, state broadcaster associations, and others who participate in EAS
program planning that the implementation of IPAWS would provide the backbone for a robust
emergency alert capability at all levels. The IPAWS programs, however, has fallen behind
schedule. What appears to be retrenchment due to cutbacks in funding has led to a near-exclusive
focus on presidential alerts, while programs at the state and local level—and to assist individuals
1 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency of the Department of Commerce.
2 911 calls go to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs). 211 calls typically go to municipal call centers. The role of
call centers in providing warnings and information in emergencies is discussed in CRS Report RL32939, An
Emergency Communications Safety Net: Integrating 911 and Other Services, by Linda K. Moore.
3 “Nationwide Emergency Mobile Telephone Alert System Soon to Be Realized,” Press Release, U.S. House of
Representatives, Committee on Homeland Security, May 30, 2008.
4 “Federal planning for external affairs functions recognizes State, tribal, and local responsibilities for providing
information to their citizens.” National Response Framework, National Response Plan, Emergency Support Function
#15 - External Affairs Annex at http://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/nrf/nrf-esf-15.pdf. Viewed May 2, 2008.
with disabilities—have languished.5 Some of these delays have been ascribed to the need for
extensive inter-agency coordination, not only with NOAA and the FCC, but also with Science and
Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to assure interoperability 6
with first responders.
EAS currently sends emergency messages with the cooperation of broadcast radio and television
and most cable television stations. It originated as CONELRAD (Control of Electromagnetic
Radiation) in 1951, as part of America’s response to the threat of nuclear attack. In 1963, the
system was opened to state and local participation. Through most of its existence, the alert system
was known as the Emergency Broadcast System. The name was changed when the technology
was upgraded and automated during the 1990s.
Congress has placed responsibility for civil defense measures, which include operation of the
present-day EAS at the national level, with the Director of the Federal Emergency Management 7
Agency (FEMA) now part of DHS. The FCC has been designated by FEMA to manage
broadcaster involvement in EAS; it currently provides technical standards and support for EAS,
rules for its operation, and enforcement within the broadcasting and cable industries. Non-federal
EAS operational plans are developed primarily at the state and local level. The emergency
response officials who, typically, initiate an EAS message for a state or local emergency also
work with FEMA. The FCC requires states that have developed an EAS plan to file the plans with
the FCC. Not all states have FCC-compliant EAS plans that have been approved and reviewed by
the FCC. FEMA advisors often help to integrate EAS usage into regional or state emergency
response plans. The decentralized process of EAS coordination and implementation contributes to
uneven planning; for example, procedures for initiating a message and activating EAS differ from
state to state.
Umbrella organizations that participate in EAS planning and administration include the Media 8
Security and Reliability Council (an FCC Advisory Committee), the Primary Entry Point
Advisory Committee, and associations such as the National Association of Broadcasters, the
National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations, and individual state broadcasting
associations. States and localities organize Emergency Communications Committees whose
members often include representatives from broadcasting companies or local TV and radio
stations. These committees agree on the chain-of-command and other procedures for activating an
5 Comments by, among others, Ann Arnold (Chair, Texas SECC and Executive Director, Texas Association of
Broadcasters), Suzanne D. Goucher ( Chair, Maine SECC and President, Maine Association of Broadcasters), Art
Botterell (Manager, Community Warning System, Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, CA) and Clay Freinwald
(Chair, Society of Broadcast Engineers’ EAS Committee, Chair Washington SECC, and Radio Frequency Systems
Engineer, Entercom) at “Promoting an Effective Emergency Alert System on the Road to a Next Generation EAS,”
FCC EAS Summit, May 19, 2008, Washington, DC.
6 Comments by Lance Craver, Program Manager, IPAWS at “Promoting an Effective Emergency Alert System on the
Road to a Next Generation EAS,” FCC EAS Summit, May 19, 2008, Washington, DC.
7 P.L. 103-337, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1995, Title XXXIV - Civil Defense, Sec. 603 (42
U.S.C. § 5196), amending the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 (64 Stat 1245). Provisions are now embodied in the
Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S C. 5121 and seq.).
8 The Primary Entry Point (PEP) system consists of a nationwide network of broadcast stations connected with
government activation points through designated National Primary Stations (LP1s).
emergency message through radio and television. The constraints of current EAS technology, as
specified by the FCC, limit a state or local EAS message to no more than two minutes.
Emergency alert agreements with broadcasters, therefore, usually provide for both EAS warning
messages and follow-up broadcast programming.
The participation of broadcast and cable stations in state and local emergency announcements is
voluntary. Over 30 radio stations have been designated as National Primary Stations that are
required to transmit Presidentially initiated alerts and messages. The National Primary Stations
form the backbone of the federal-level Emergency Alert System, and are directly under the
governance of FEMA. In times of a national emergency, their broadcasts would be relayed by
Primary Entry Point (PEP) stations to radio and television stations that rebroadcast the message to
other broadcast and cable stations until all stations have been alerted. This system of relaying
EAS messages is generally referred to as the “daisy chain.” State and local emergency alerts enter
the daisy chain through the PEPs, which can include the national primary stations (also referred to
as Presidential PEPs). The FCC requires the states to initiate weekly or monthly tests, it does not
require testing at the national level. There are therefore several levels of governance, each of
which uses different combinations of radio broadcast stations to initiate and transmit messages.
There is a federal level, for national alerts, administered by FEMA, using radio broadcast stations
with equipment that conforms to FCC requirements, there are state plans, as described above, and
there can be local plans. States, in particular, will use combinations of radio stations with different
broadcast transmission coverage to match the configuration of their geographical areas. One
constant is that the FCC sets the requirements for equipment for all stations.
The FCC requires broadcast and cable stations to install FCC-certified EAS equipment as a
condition of licensing. Radio and television broadcast stations, cable companies and wireless
cable companies must participate. Cable companies serving communities of less than 5,000 may
be partially exempted from EAS requirements. For the broadcast of non-federal emergency
messages, the FCC has ruled that the broadcasters, not a state or local authority, have the final 9
authority to transmit a message. Historically, the level of cooperation from the broadcasting
industry has been high. For example, because state and local governments are not required to
upgrade to EAS-compatible equipment—and therefore may lack direct access to the
technology—broadcasters often volunteer to manage the task of EAS message initiation.
The FCC has promulgated new rules to include digital media carriage of EAS messages. In a
Report and Order released November 10, 2005, EAS requirements have been expanded to include
digital communications over direct-broadcast televison and radio, digital cable, and direct-to-
home satellite television and radio. Companies using these media are required to install EAS
equipment to handle digital formats. As part of the Report and Order, the FCC asked for a new 10
round of comments on ways to improve and expand the current emergency alert system. The
final rule became effective February 21, 2006.
9 FCC, Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making, Released December 9, 1994, FO Docket Nos.
91-301 and 91-171, 10 FCC Record 1786.
10 FCC, Review of the Emergency Alert System, First Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,
EAS technology uses coders and decoders to send data signals recognized as emergency
messages. In manual mode, an EAS alert is sent to a broadcaster, either over an EAS encoder-
decoder or by other means, such as a telephone call. Where agreements have been put in place
with broadcasters, EAS messages can be created and activated by state or local officials and
transmitted automatically to the public without the intervention of broadcasting staff. These
automated messages are broadcast to the public using computer-generated voices. All EAS
messages carry a unique code which can be matched to codes embedded in transmitting
equipment; this authenticates the sender of the EAS message. To facilitate the transmittal of
emergency messages, messages are classified by types of events, which also are coded. These
event codes speed the recognition and re-transmittal process at broadcast stations. For example, a
tornado warning is TOR, evacuation immediate is EVI, a civil emergency message is CEM.
When a message is received at the broadcast station, it can be relayed to the public either as a
program interruption or, for television, as a “crawl” at the bottom of the TV screen.
The FCC requires that EAS messages be delivered in both audio and visual (captions, message
boards, other) formats. Regular broadcasts about emergencies, however, do not have to comply
with this requirement. The community of disabled individuals, therefore, is often under-served
when emergency information is disseminated outside the EAS network. Although a number of
technologies exist to provide accessible formats for people with special needs—such as those
with disabilities, the elderly, and those who do not understand English—many of these solutions
are not supported by the current EAS system or are so expensive as to be inaccessible to most.
Incorporating technologies that expand the reach of EAS, at a reasonable cost, is one of the 11
challenges of delivering an effective warning system that is truly nationwide.
Many aspects of the Emergency Alert System summarized in this report are discussed in detail in 12
a March 2007 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO initiated a
study of the functioning of EAS from the perspective of emergency preparedness in government
operations. Based on its findings, the GAO has made recommendations to FEMA and the FCC
for additional planning and greater involvement with stakeholders. In particular, the GAO found
that there were problems in the relay system that had not been identified, in part because there is
no requirement for a system test at the national level. It also identified problems such as gaps in
disaster planning and insufficient redundancy to ensure uninterrupted broadcasting nationwide.
DHS replied positively to the GAO’s report and recommendations and said that it would begin
EB Docket No. 04-296, released November 10, 2005.
11 For a discussion of the issue in the context of the Americans with Disabilities Act, see CRS Report RS22254, The
Americans with Disabilities Act and Emergency Preparedness and Response, by Nancy Lee Jones.
12 Emergency Preparedness: Current Emergency Alert System Has Limitations, and Development of a New Integrated
System Will Be Challenging, GAO-07-411, March 2007.
quarterly tests of the national-level relay.13 The reply also noted that FEMA, in coordination with
the FCC, continues to work on implementing the executive order regarding improvements to the
Digitized signal technology for EAS is the same as that used for the NOAA Weather Radio
(NWR). Widely recognized as the backbone of public warning systems, NWR broadcasts
National Weather Service forecasts and all-hazard warnings for natural and man-made events.
The compatibility of the signals makes it possible for EAS equipment used by the media to
receive and decode NWR messages automatically. Weather radios can be tuned directly to NWR
channels. Many can be programmed to receive only specific types of messages—for example,
civil emergency—and for specific locations, using Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME).
Standardized SAME codes can be used in almost any device with a radio receiver. These can
sound an alarm or set off a flashing light. Similar technology is available to provide NWR
messages by satellite TV and over the Internet as messages or as e-mail. Therefore, although EAS
and NWR are broadcast technologies set up to operate on a one-to-many basis, these broadcasts
can be screened and decoded to provide customized alerts.
Given the advanced state of other communications technologies, especially the Internet and
wireless devices, the reliance on delivering EAS warnings by radio and television broadcasting
seems out-of-date. Some states and communities are pioneering alert systems that utilize other
infrastructures. In particular, many communities participate in programs with e-mail or Internet
alerts and some issue mass alerts by telephone.
A standardized format known as Common Alerting Protocol (CAP)14 has been developed for use
in all types of alert messages. CAP has received widespread support from the public safety
community and has been accepted as a standard by the international Organization for the
Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). One of its key benefits is that it can
be used as a single input to activate multiple warning systems. It is being used as a standard for
new, digitized alert networks using multiple technologies. The Emergency Interoperability
Consortium (EIC) has a memorandum of understanding with DHS to improve and expand the use 15
of CAP and other XML standards in emergency alerts. In a digital environment, CAP is
intended to replace SAME codes currently used in EAS.
13 Ibid., Appendix III.
14 CAP information at http://www.incident.com/cookbook/index.php/CAP_Fact_Sheet. Viewed May 2, 2008.
15 See http://www.eic.org/dhs.htm and http://www.eic.org/docs/SIGNED%20MOA.pdf. Both viewed May 2, 2008.
Some of the technological solutions for disseminating alerts and providing information rely on
call centers, including 911 emergency call centers (also referred to as Public Safety Answering 16
Points, or PSAPs). The 9/11 Commission Report describes the often inadequate response of 911 17
call centers serving New York City. The report’s analysis of the 911 response recommends: “In
planning for future disasters, it is important to integrate those taking 911 calls into the emergency
response team and to involve them in providing up-to-date information and assistance to the 18
public.” Such a solution would require a common infrastructure that would support a number of
communications and warning needs. Many recommendations have encouraged the development
of greater end-to-end connectivity among all types of emergency services.
In June 2004, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the
Department of Homeland Security’s Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection
Directorate signed an agreement that allows DHS to send critical all-hazards alerts and warnings,
including those related to terrorism, directly through the NOAA Weather Radio All-Hazards
Network. Under the agreement, operational procedures were established to develop warning and
alert messages that will be sent to NWR for broadcast to radios and other communications
devices and for entry into EAS. This agreement is being implemented through the development of 19
HazCollect. HazCollect is planned as an all-hazards emergency message collection system that
will link DHS to NWR, EAS and other alerting systems through the Disaster Management 20
Information Systems center housed with DHS.
Working with the Association of Public Television Stations, DHS has completed two successful
pilots to test the implementation of digital technologies and networks, the Digital Emergency
Alert System (DEAS). DEAS uses the additional capacity that digital technology provides for
broadcasting to send digitized alerts to almost any communications device, including wireless.
The rollout of DEAS is part of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).
Development of IPAWS is under the leadership of FEMA’s National Continuity Programs (NCP) 21
Directorate. It will use digital media—including digital TV—to send emergency alert data over
telephone, cable, wireless devices, broadcast media and other networks. The program will provide 22
the base for a national federal public safety alert and warning system using digital technology.
16 Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Official Government Edition,
2004 (referred to as 9/11 Commission Report).
17 9/11 Commission Report pp. 286-287, 295, and 306.
18 Ibid., p. 318.
19 See http://www.weather.gov/os/hazcollect/. Viewed June 3, 2008.
20 See http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/egov/c-2-2-disaster.html. Viewed June 3, 2008.
21 See http://www.fema.gov/about/offices/ncp/index.shtm. Viewed May 2, 2008.
22 Testimony of R. David Paulison, Administrator, FEMA, Department of Homeland Security, Senate Committee on
Homeland Security and Government Affairs, April 3, 2008.
Another joint program under the IPAWS umbrella is a pilot with NOAA to test a geo-targeted
alert system using “reverse 911.” Reverse 911 is a term sometime used to describe any calling
system that places calls generated by a public safety call center to a specific audience.
A program component of IPAWS is to improve the robustness of the communications network to
Primary Entry Point (PEP) radio stations by switching from dial-up to satellite distribution. The
number of PEP broadcast stations is to be expanded to provide satellite communications
capability to every state and territory. These steps are meant to assure the survivability of radio
broadcast communications in the event of a catastrophic incident. The public radio satellite
system is already equipped to send DEAS messages to about 860 public radio stations across the 23
country. FEMA plans to increase the number, over time, from 36 to 63.
Advocates of all-hazard warning systems are seeking interoperability among warning systems,
standardized terminology, and operating procedures in order to provide emergency alerts and
information that reach the right people, in a timely manner, in a way that is meaningful and
understood by all. In 1999, FEMA and the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture took the 24
lead in a multi-agency working group to explore ways to create an all-hazard warning network.
Their recommendations included using NWR as the backbone for a national all-hazard warning
system and the establishment of a permanent group to promote improvements in warning
systems. The following year, the National Science and Technology Council at the White House
sponsored a report that explored the types of technologies and systems that are used or could be 25
used for emergency alerts. Among its recommendations were: the creation of a public-private
partnership that would bring all stakeholders together; one or more working groups to address
issues such as terminology, technology, location-specific identifiers and cost-effective warning
systems; system standardization; and increasing the number of communications channels for
warnings. The report concluded that substantial improvements in early warning systems could be
achieved through coordination and better use of existing technologies.
Also in 2000, a public-private, multi-disciplinary group was organized as the Partnership for 26
Public Warning (PPW). In 2002, the group received funding to convene meetings and prepare
comments regarding the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS). Workshop findings were
later expanded into recommendations in “A National Strategy for Integrated Public Warning
Policy and Capability.” The purpose of the document was to “develop a national vision and
goals” for improving all-hazard warning systems at the federal, state and local levels. PPW
suggested that DHS take the lead in developing a national public warning capability. The PPW
23 Written testimony and comments of Major General Martha Rainville, Assistant Administrator, National Continuity
Programs Directorate, FEMA, Department of Homeland Security, at “Advancing Public Alert and Warning Systems to
Build a More Resilient Nation,” Hearing, House of Representatives, Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee
on Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response, May 14, 2008.
24 National Partnership for Reinventing Government, “Saving Lives with an All-Hazard Warning Network,” 1999, at
http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/all-haz/all-haz1.htm. Viewed May 2, 2008.
25 National Science and Technology Council, Working Group on Natural Disaster Information Systems, Subcommittee
on Natural Disaster Reduction, “Effective Disaster Warnings,” November 2000 http://www.sdr.gov/
NDIS_rev_Oct27.pdf. Viewed May 2, 2008.
26 Funding came from FEMA, the National Science Foundation, the National Weather Service, the U.S. Geological
Survey, and private sources.
discussed the role of an alert system in public safety and homeland security and concluded that
current procedures are “ineffective.” PPW’s recommendations centered on developing multiple,
redundant systems using various technologies with common standards that would be “backward
compatible” with EAS (including Amber Alert codes) and National Weather Service 2728
technologies. It subsequently scaled back its activities for lack of funding.
On June 26, 2006, President George W. Bush issued an executive order stating that U.S. policy is
“to have an effective, reliable, integrated, flexible, and comprehensive system to alert and warn
the American people.... ” To achieve this policy, the President set out a list of functional
requirements for the Secretary of Homeland Security to meet that respond to the
recommendations of experts in this field. In summary, these requirements cover
• evaluating existing resources;
• adopting common protocols, standards and other procedures to enable
• delivering alerts on criteria such as location or risk;
• accommodating disabilities and language needs;
• supporting necessary communications facilities;
• conducting training, testing, and exercises;
• ensuring public education about emergency warnings;
• coordinating and cooperating with the private sector and government at all levels;
• administering the existing Emergency Alert System as a component of the
• ensuring that the President can alert and warn the American people.
The order also specified the level of support expected from other departments and agencies in
meeting the requirements for a better warning system. The Secretary of Homeland Security was
ordered to “ensure an orderly and effective transition” from current capabilities to the system 29
described by executive order. The development and implementation of IPAWS is part of the
response to the order.
Although the 109th Congress introduced a number of bills that proposed ways to improve the
emergency alert system, the language that made it into law as Title VI of the port security bill (the
27 Documents at http://www.partnershipforpublicwarning.org/ppw/natlstratsumm.html. Viewed May 1, 2008.
28 Memorandum to PPW Members, June 30, 2004. The PPW website is maintained by MITRE Corporation.
29 “Executive Order: Public Alert and Warning System,” released June 26, 2006, available at
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/06/20060626.html. Executive Order 13407. Viewed May 2, 2008.
Security and Accountability for Every Port Act, SAFE Port Act, H.R. 4954, Representative
Lungren) focused almost exclusively on developing regulations and technology that could
effectively send geo-targeted alerts to commercial cell phones.
The Warning, Alert, and Response Network Act (WARN Act) as signed into law as Title VI of
P.L. 109-347, required the establishment of a Commercial Mobile Service Alert Advisory 30
Committee by the FCC. Following the signing of the act into law, the FCC assembled the
committee, as required, with members from state, local and tribal governments, from industry and 31
associations, and representatives of persons with special needs. This committee, within a year of
formation, was charged with providing the FCC with recommendations on technical
requirements, standards, regulation and other matters needed to support the transmittal of 32
emergency alerts by commercial mobile service providers to their subscribers. The FCC, alone
or in consultation with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of the
Department of Commerce, was given the responsibility of adopting proceedings to be used in the 33
promulgation and enforcement of rules reflecting the conclusions of the committee. The digital
broadcasting capacity of public television stations, described above, is to be used to “enable the
distribution of geographically targeted alerts by commercial mobile service providers,” based on 34
recommendations from the committee. These provisions are to assure the development of a new
national warning system at the federal level, for presidential alerts, and will support development
of alerts to commercial mobile devices. The WARN Act also included provisions for commercial
wireless service providers to opt in or out of the emergency alert service, with requirements for 35
Programs specified in the law may be funded from the $106 million made available through the
Digital Transition and Public Safety Fund established in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (P.L. 36
One of the purposes of the fund is to reimburse broadcast stations for reasonable costs incurred in 37
complying with requirements for alerts under the program as established by the committee.
These monies and other appropriations could be used to provide up to $10 million for grants to
communities that are unserved or underserved by commercial mobile services, to acquire 38
“outdoor alerting technologies.” Funds also could be used to pay for a research and
development program, established under the act, to support the development of technologies that
can be used to expand the reach of alerts to commercial mobile devices. The program is to be
headed by the Homeland Security Under Secretary for Science and Technology, in consultation 39
with NIST and the FCC.
30 P.L. 109-347, Sec. 603 (a).
31 P.L. 109-347, Sec. 603 (b). Information about committee activities and membership is at http://www.fcc.gov/pshs/
advisory/cmsaac/. Viewed May 2, 2008.
32 P.L. 109-347, Sec. 603 (c).
33 P.L. 109-347, Sec. 602 (a).
34 P.L. 109-347, Sec. 602 (c).
35 P.L. 109-347, Sec. 602 (b).
36 P.L. 109-347, Sec. 606 (c).
37 P.L. 109-347, Sec. 606 (b).
38 P.L. 109-347, Sec. 605.
39 P.L. 109-347, Sec. 604.
The committee submitted recommendations on using commercial cell phone technology for
emergency alerts within the time frame required by Congress (i.e., by October 12, 2007). In
accordance with provisions in the WARN Act, the FCC completed a proceeding reviewing the
recommendations made by the Commercial Mobile Service Alert Advisory Committee 40
(CMSAAC) within 180 days of receiving the recommendations.
The proposal to develop a Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) and other recommendations 41
made by the CMSAAC were opened to public comment by the FCC on December 14, 2007. In 42
the subsequent rule-making, the FCC adopted most of the recommendations made by the
CMSAAC. In addition to message formats and other standards, some of the key rules cover
• Type of alerts. Three alert categories, as defined in the Report and Order, are
required to be carried by participating carriers: presidential, imminent threat, and
• Coverage of alerts. The standard for location coverage is to be county-wide.
• Management of alerts. The CMSAAC recommended that a federal agency act as
an aggregator in accepting, verifying, and routing messages.
The FCC continues to refine the rules for providing CMAS. The most recent set of requirements
is contained in the Third Report and Order, released August 7, 2008 (Docket No. 07-287).
The NCP Directorate will take on the responsibility of acting as a gateway and aggregator of 43
alerts for dissemination through CMAS. In statements to the press, Major General Martha
Rainville, Assistant Administrator of the NCP, estimated that it would take 18 months for CMAS 44
to become operational. The WARN Act did not provide a mandatory deadline for the
implementation of CMAS.
In an official letter to the FCC, Ms. Rainville had previously stated FEMA’s position that the
agency did not have the statutory authority to transmit alerts originated by state and local 45
40 P.L. 109-347, Sec. 602 (a).
41 FCC, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, December 14, 2007, PS Docket No. 07-287.
42 FCC, First Report and Order, April 9, 2008, PS Docket No. 07-287 (FCC 08-99).
43 “Nationwide Emergency Mobile Telephone Alert System Soon to Be Realized,” Press Release, U.S. House of
Representatives, Committee on Homeland Security, May 30, 2008.
44 “FEMA Agrees to Assume Role As Aggregator for Wireless Alerts,” by Paul Kirby, TR Daily, May 30, 2008.
45 Letter the FCC, dated February 19, 2008, from General Martha Rainville, Assistant Administrator, Office of National
Continuity Programs, FEMA, Docket No. 07-287, at http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/prod/ecfs/
retrieve.cgi?native_or_pdf=pdf&id_document=6519842449. Viewed May 2, 2008.
The First Response Broadcasters Act of 2007 (S. 1223, Senator Landrieu and H.R. 2331,
Representative Melancon) would authorize funds to strengthen the radio broadcasting
infrastructure that supports the Emergency Alert System. To improve emergency broadcast
coverage, the bills would require new Primary Entry Point stations in 21 states, the District of
Columbia, and three territories. The bills define a Primary Entry Point as “a radio broadcast
station designated to provide public information following national and local emergencies where
there is no commercial power,” and would authorize $6.5 million to construct and equip 25
Primary Entry Point stations.
The bills would also provide for a pilot Broadcast Disaster Preparedness Grant Program. They
would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to set up a grant program for qualified first
response broadcasters, defined in the bills as “a local or regional television or radio broadcaster
that provides essential disaster-related public information programming before, during, and after
the occurrence of a major disaster.” The purpose of the program is to protect or provide
redundancy to facilities and equipment critical to transmitting disaster-related programming and
to upgrade or add facilities needed for the preparation and transmission of this programming. The
bills would authorize $10 million for each fiscal year from 2008 through 2010. By creating the
category of first response broadcaster, the bills would address the rights of broadcasters to gain
access to disaster sites and to receive assistance and support. In evaluating grant applicants,
priority would be given to applications (1) made jointly by more than one broadcaster in an area,
(2) that included cooperation with state or local authorities, (3) on behalf of broadcasters with no
more than 50 employees, (4) by broadcasters principally owned and operated by area residents,
and (5) that provided written statements of intent to provide disaster-related programming.
CJ’s Home Protection Act of 200746 (H.R. 2787, Representative Ellsworth) takes a look at the
devastation and damages caused by tornados, and the especially high risk to manufactured
(mobile) homes. The findings of the bill cite a 2006 statistic from NOAA that indicates that over
40% of fatalities resulting from tornados were residents of mobile homes. CJ’s Law would
require that the installation of weather radios, equipped with SAME technology and tone alarms,
be made a federal construction and safety standard for new manufactured homes intended for
sale. The bill, as amended, was passed by the House on October 30, 2007, and sent to the Senate.
It was referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. No comparable bill has
been introduced by the Senate.
The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Modernization Act of 2008 (H.R. 6038,
Representative Graves) would place statutory requirements on the development of IPAWS and
would authorize funding to implement the program and conduct pilot tests. It was introduced May 47
13, 2008, partly in response to reports of problems with IPAWS. It would require the NCP
Directorate, or its successor, to modernize and implement an integrated public alert and warning
system. Implementation would include
46 C.J. Martin, aged two, was killed when a tornado struck the Eastbrook Mobile Home Park in Evansville, Indiana,
shortly after 2:00 a.m. on November 6, 2005.
47 Comments by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton at Advancing Public Alert and Warning Systems to Build a
More Resilient Nation,” Hearing, House of Representatives, Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on
Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response, May 14, 2008.
• using common protocols, standards, terminology, and operating procedures for
• providing customization features such as distribution by geographic location,
type of risk, or recipient needs; and
• providing capabilities to alert individuals with disabilities or language
The NCP would also be required to promote local and regional partnerships to enhance
community preparedness and response. Authorization of appropriations would be $37 million in
FY2009 and such sums as may be necessary in subsequent years. In FY2008, the congressional 48
appropriation for IPAWS was $25 million.
The Alerting Lives Through Effective and Reliable Technological Systems (ALERTS) Act (H.R.
6392, Cuellar), introduced June 26, 2008, would place similar requirements on IPAWS as those in
H.R. 6038 and also would clarify, through legislation, the role of DHS in providing alerts through
In addition to some variations in implementation and system requirements, different provisions of
the two bills include:
• Law to be amended. H.R. 6038 would amend emergency alert provisions in the
Stafford Act. H.R. 6392 would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 by
adding provisions related to emergency alerts.
• Role of the Secretary of Homeland Security. H.R. 6038, following the language
of the Stafford Act, would place responsibility for modernizing and implementing
the public alert and warning system through FEMA; the National Continuity
Programs Directorate, or its successor would advise on modernization and
implementation. H.R. 6392 would direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to
(1) establish a national integrated public alert and warning system and (2)
designate an agency to facilitate the transmission of messages through CMAS.
• Pilot programs. H.R. 6038 would require pilot programs to test the feasibility of
using different methods to meet system requirements specified in the bill. H.R.
6392 would require a pilot program to increase the reach of integrated public
alerts and warnings and CMAS; at least five states would be chose to participate
in the pilot.
• Funding. Both bills would authorize the same sums. H.R. 6392 would
specifically include improvements to alert and warning systems in the Homeland
Security grant programs authorized by the Implementing Recommendations of
the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-53).
• Criminal acts. H.R. 6392 would make it unlawful to tamper or interfere with the
broadcast towers or other components of alerting systems. The disabling of vital
communications equipment is a growing problem nationwide, and particularly in
48 Written testimony of Major General Martha Rainville, Assistant Administrator, National Continuity Programs
Directorate, FEMA, Department of Homeland Security, at “Advancing Public Alert and Warning Systems to Build a
More Resilient Nation,” Hearing, House of Representatives, Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on
Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response, May 14, 2008.
rural areas where towers are isolated. The vandalizing is in part a consequence of
the rising value of copper wire and other materials.
The Disaster Response, Recovery, and Mitigation Enhancement ACT (H.R. 6658, Oberstar)
contains provisions covering a wide range of FEMA activities. In addition to reiterating the
IPAWS provisions of H.R. 6038, the bill would create an advisory committee to make
recommendations to FEMA concerning IPAWS and report to Congress on the committee’s
actions. The bill was reported out of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
on July 31, 2008.
Linda K. Moore
Analyst in Telecommunications Policy