Friday, September 24, 2010

The Annoying Emergency Alert System Tests

Ever watched television or listened to radio and, just as the critical point in the program or a favorite musical passage comes on, it is interrupted by the annoying tones of the F.C.C. and Department of Homeland Security's "Emergency Alert System" (EAS)?


When I was a child in the 1950's, there was a system called CONELRAD that was to alert us in case of nuclear attack. And, perhaps in the 1950's, it made sense to have that system. But today? CONELRAD has morphed into a giant white elephant called EAS.


The EAS says it is designed to allow the President access to the airwaves within ten minutes in case of emergency. Fine. But, why do we need EAS? Can't the President just call up the networks? 


Think back to September 11, 2001. President Bush was in Florida. As the airplanes struck, all of the networks began covering the story without any help from the President or government. They did it because it was news. No EAS notification was made. Cuban Missile Crisis? No. Oklahoma City bombing? Nope! Assassination attempt on President Reagan? Nada. 


The EAS system has never been used. 


Lets ask a practical question: Since we got through the Cuban Missile Crisis and September 11 with the regular news media covering the stories, do you believe the media will fail to cover a bigger crisis? Of course they will! And, just like President Bush addressed the nation from a remote location on September 11 via the regular media, he will be able to do so in a future crisis.  


So, why do we need the EAS tests, infrastructure, and people to run it?  


Answer: We don't. 


EAS is a perfect example of a government program whose time, if it had ever come, has passed. It is time to get rid of EAS and those annoying weekly tests.  

4 comments:

  1. EAS may not have been used at the presidential level, but some small and medium-market radio stations depend on the EAS infrastructure to relay urgent weather warnings.

    The EAS equipment can be set to automatically interrupt regular programming to relay a warning message (quite often the replay of the warning text from weather/AH radio), all without the need for a board operator if properly configured.

    This is especially important given the effects of the centralization of radio ownership, where "local" radio stations are actually programmed and voice-tracked from far-away places.

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  2. Hi Mike. Maybe EAS should be modified, but not completely eliminated. It is useful at a state (or region of a state) basis. For example, with all of the radio station automation, it is helpful here (in Pennsylvania) to hear of a tornado warning (cut-in) on the radio during my commute. Similarly, if there was (another) emergency at Three Mile Island nuclear plant, we could learn of it and what to do via Pennsylvania's EAS. National EAS is a dinosaur.

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  3. Thank you, both commenters.

    My comments were primarily directed toward national EAS. I believe the idea that if something bigger than Sept. 11 or the Cuban Missile crisis were to occur again they would need EAS because CNN (for example) would NOT cover the emergency is absurd.

    With regard to state and local, there are two issues.

    #1. Here in Wichita, there was a big push by the local cable company about ten years ago to set up EAS so the local mayor could tell us a tornado was coming. My question (both at that time and now) is, "What does the local mayor know about it?" He/she would get the info from the NWS and that process would just slow things down. I believe the whole thing was the cable company trying to level the playing field between the local stations (with meteorologists) who were getting on the air first versus. I think we would all agree that is bad. When a tornado is coming, we need the info as fast as possible.

    #2. Small market local stations. It is fine with me if they wish to rebroadcast NOAA Weather Radio. It is inexpensive and could be fast. But all of the EAS announcements and warning tones seem to slow things down (especially the tones at the end of a warning announcement). If you get an afternoon where there are dozens of warnings, the tones and formalities seem to get in the way. I found myself thinking, "Get me the information, already!"

    There has to be a better way to get the info to those who need it without all the tests, formal announcements, and tones.

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  4. I just came across this page shortly after a required EAS test from my cable company(TWC)

    I understand some things need to be tested, but with the EAS tones coming through the cable box, I cannot change the channel to get away from the jarring tones, and im pretty sure my next door neighbor heard it as it is 2am here and even though my tv volume is not too loud, it seems like the tones have over-ridden my tv volume to become the loudest thing on my floor.

    They can test it all they want, but let us opt out of the required weekly tone tests, or at least get rid of the tones at this time of the day. Also, at this time, I am under the weather and those tones seemed to just bounce around in my head even after i muted my tv.

    I would rather take an outdoor warning siren at 1000ft than listen to these tones on a seemingly quieted tv.

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