May 12, 2009 by CSCC
Background & Infrastructure
Radio and television broadcasters are first responders in times of crisis. Americans know that, during times of crisis, they can rely on local radio and television stations for current, in-depth emergency information and instructions.
The broadcast industry consists of local television and radio stations that either create content or carry content obtained from national networks or other program suppliers. The national networks transmit their signals from broadcasting studios via satellite to local television and radio stations. A broadcast may be distributed through several physical means. If coming directly from the studio at a local radio or television station, it is simply sent through the air chain to the transmitter and then from the antenna on the tower out to the consumer’s receivers Programming may also come through a communications satellite, played either live or recorder for later transmission. Networks of stations (called single frequency networks) may simulcast the same programming at the same time, originally via microwave link, and now usually by satellite.
Distribution to radio and television stations or networks may also be through physical media, such videotape, hard disk or other formats. The final leg of broadcast distribution is how the signal gets to the listener or viewer. The signal may come over the air as with a radio or television station to an antenna and receiver, or it may come through cable television or cable radio via the station.. The Internet may also bring either radio or television to the audience.
There are over 16,500 full power radio and television broadcast stations in the United States. On June 12, 2009, over-the-air television completed a transition from analog to digital broadcasting (although translators and low power television stations have yet to transition). Digital signals consist of pieces of simple electronic code that can carry more information than conventional analog signals. This code allows for the transmission of better quality sound and higher resolution pictures and includes high-definition television (HDTV) and 5.1 channel Surround Sound. Radio is also in the midst of a market-driven rollout of digital radio broadcasting technology. As of mid-2010, there are approximately 2,000 radio stations broadcasting in digital using HD Radio in-band/on-channel (IBOC) digital radio technology.
Emergency Communications & EAS
Broadcasting has a longer history than any other communications medium of providing reliable emergency communications to Americans. Broadcasters relay life-saving information through on-going news programming, often at their own peril. Broadcasting is also the backbone of the Emergency Alert System (EAS). EAS is used by federal, state and local emergency managers and the National Weather Service to relay specific information to the public via radio and TV stations about national and local emergencies, weather incidents, and America’s Missing: Broadcaster Emergency Response (AMBER) Alerts, among others situations. Since the inception of AMBER in 1996, AMBER alerts have helped to safely recover more than 500 abducted children.
Broadcasters test their EAS capabilities on a weekly and monthly basis, and the FCC has announced its intention to introduce an annual nationwide test of the EAS starting in 2011. In January 2010, the FCC and FEMA conducted a state-wide EAS test in Alaska to illuminate the potential issues surrounding a national test.
EMA is responsible for administering EAS at the national level, while the FCC manages EAS participation by media-related communications service providers. FEMA is responsible for distributing presidential EAS alerts to Primary Entry Point (PEP) stations, that relay EAS messages to radio and television stations that rebroadcast the message to other broadcast stations and cable systems until all EAS participants have been alerted. FCC rules require EAS participants to install FCC-certified EAS equipment. Radio and television stations, among others, generally must participate in the system and transmit alerts initiated by the President (and also state governors, following implementation of next-generation EAS).
In June 2006, the President issued Executive Order 13407, entitled Public Alert and Warning System, implementing a policy that the U.S. have a comprehensive integrated alert and warning system. FEMA initiated the IPAWS program in 2004 to implement the executive order. EAS is expected to be superseded as the nation’s primary alert function by IPAWS, with EAS acting as one of its component parts.
Broadcasters Involvement in Security Organizations
Broadcasters participate in the CSCC through the involvement of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Broadcasters are also represented by NAB and executives of several individual broadcasting companies on the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability & Interoperability Council (CSRIC).