REC LPFM Advisory Letter #16 - EAS CAP Polling requirement for radio - deadline December 12, 2023

Revision #2 - issued November 21, 2022 8:20AM ET.

On September 29, 2022, the FCC adopted a Report and Order in PS Docket 15-94 to improve the accessibility of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) for persons with disabilities.  Specifically, the FCC mandated that "CAP Polling" be implemented by all radio and television users one year after the new rules are go into effect.    On November 10, 2022, the FCC announced that the new rules have been published in the Federal Register and that radio and television stations must be compliant by December 12, 2023.

The issue

There are currently two types of emergency alerts, legacy and CAP.  Legacy alerts are delivered over the air.  These are the alerts that include the data bursts that listeners will hear.  Encoded in that data includes information such as the date and time of the alert, date and time of the expiration of the alert, the originator of the alert, the type of alert that it is and the areas that are affected by the alert (FIPS codes).  Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) alerts are delivered to stations through the internet and are encoded in XML and carry much more robust information about the alert and also have the ability to carry "attachments" such as recorded audio and graphic images.  

Those with hearing impariments that watch television may currently see a crawl message on the TV screen that includes the emergency information.  On CAP alerts, since the data is robust, it will include the very detailed information about the alert, while in the case of legacy alerts, this information is very generic in nature (e.g. At 7:20PM, A Civil Authority has issued a Tornado Warning for the following areas: Wicomico County MD, Dorchester County MD.  Expires at 7:50PM.)   As a result, those with disabilities may not receive the full message, especally if the TV station is not carrying news coverage of the event and using live captioning.  

The FCC determined that because of the limitations of the legacy alerts, EAS participants must favor CAP alerts over legacy alerts if the alert is received over both sources. 

Not all alerts come over CAP

In most areas, alerts coming over CAP are limited to those released by state and local authorities.  These may include AMBER Alerts, Blue Alerts, local evacuation orders and other similar incidents.  Most notibly, alerts originating from the National Weather Service (where a majority of legacy alerts originate from) are not delivered by CAP EAS, even though weather alerts are still delivered through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Open Platform for Emergency Networks (IPAWS-OPEN), but through the "non-EAS" channel.  

During the rulemaking proceeding, recognizing that there may be many radio stations, especially LPFM, small NCE and small commercial stations that may have not upgraded their EAS units to a version that is compliant with the CAP Polling method that was being proposed as well as due to the lack of benefit the change would provide to radio (as the benefits were visual as opposed to aural) and due to the fact that most alerts come from the NWS, which is not on CAP; REC asked for a three year deadline for radio and a one year deadline for television.  The FCC denied our motion and upheld their one year deadline for both radio and television stations.  

What is CAP Polling?

When CAP Polling is activated on an EAS decoder, the system, upon receiving a legacy alert over the air, will wait for up to 10 seconds for a similar alert to arrive by IPAWS-OPEN (known commonly as a "CAP alert").  If a CAP alert is received within that 10 second period, the EAS will forward the CAP alert instead of the original legacy message.  If no CAP alert is received within 10 seconds of the legacy alert, the legacy alert is forwarded.  

Overall, using CAP has its benefits as it would permit for a clearer audio message to be sent over the air either through an attached audio file that comes with the CAP alert or through the use of the EAS decoder's text to speech functionality.   Until the National Weather Service switches to IPAWS-OPEN for EAS alerts, radio stations will continue to receive the inferior quality messages using the NWS text to speech system received from the agency's VHF radio system.  

How EAS decoders can become compliant.

REC has reached out to the four major manufacturers of EAS decoders to determine their plans to make their client's decoders compliant:

Digital Alert Systems / DASDEC

DASDEC users on Version 4 or 5 software already have this capability.  Those who are still on version 3 must upgrade their decoder to at least version 4 in order to be compliant.  While DASDEC has recently released Version 5 of the software, an upgrade to 5 is not required at this time but is recommended sometime in the future to assure that your unit has the latest features and is more "future proof".  The upgrade from Version 3 to Version 4 will run approximately $500.  

DASDEC users on Version 4 or 5 must turn on the CAP Polling functionality.  This is a very easy process:

  • Log into your DASDEC.
  • Click on the "Setup" section.
  • Click the Alert Agent radio button.
  • Click the Alert Policies tab.
  • On this page, look for the "Triggered CAP Polling - Global Settings" section and check the box "Triggered CAP Polling".
  • Under the checkbox, enter the value 10 for Global Window. 
  • The unit is now compliant for December 12, 2023.

Sage Alerting Systems / ENDEC

Sage has informed REC that they are planning a firmware upgrade in early 2023 to add this functionality.  No firm decision has been made on pricing.  Sage will issue a subsequent announcement.  Once they make that announcement, we will update this Advisory Letter.

Trilithic-Viavi Solutions  / EasyCAP

Viavi has informed REC that they are planning a new firmware release in Spring 2023.  For Trilithic's licensed users, this will be a free upgrade.

Gorman-Redlich

REC has reached out to Gorman-Redlich and are still awaiting a response.  When we receive a response, we will update this Advisory Letter.

Why do we need to do this?

Simple, it's because the regulations require it.  Stations not in compliance may be subject to Notices of Violation that will need to be reported come license renewal time and may be subject to forfeitures.  EAS is one of the highest priority of obligations that LPFM stations must adhere to and the FCC does take EAS very seriously. Even though the current alerting environment provides not much benefit to radio stations for implementing this change, it is a required change and it is in LPFM's best interest to assure that 100% of stations are complying with the EAS regulations. 

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The first version of this Advisory Letter was released on November 15, 2022 at 9:00 AM ET.
The first revision of this Advisory Letter was released on November 15, 2022 at 11:00 AM ET to reflect information received from Sage Alerting Systems.
The second revision of this Advisory Letter was released on November 21, 2022 at 8:20AM ET to reflect Trilithic's response to our inquiry regarding any charge for the upgrade.