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Emergency Alert System Test, November 9, 2011
"This has been a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. Had this been an actual emergency, you would have been instructed where to go in your area for additional instructions." Do you remember back when you would be watching All in the Family and suddenly a shrill tone constituted of a combination of 853 and 960 Hz sinewaves would blast through the television's speakers, accompanied by these bars flashed onto the screen? It was implemented in 1963 as a means of alerting citizens to current or potential critical events like a pack of Ruskie ICBMs flying over the North Pole, an invasion force landing on American shores, or a mile-wide tornado ripping a path through the Badlands of South Dakota. "The Emergency Broadcast System was established to provide the President of the United States with an expeditious method of communicating with the American public in the event of war, threat of war, or grave national crisis," so goes the official line. The EBS, successor to CONELRAD, could be used for national or local emergencies. Radio and TV stations were required to broadcast the test at least once per week. When an actual emergency did occur, a teletype message was sent to affected areas that was specially coded to trip an audible alarm in the studios. Broadcasters then initiated a procedure to interrupt the current show, play the announcement, and resume the regularly scheduled show or follow the announcement with a special report.
The EBS was replaced in 1994 by the Emergency Alert System (EAS), which we still have today. Transmittal of notices have been updated over time, but until now, handing over control of the airwaves has been done locally by the operators. Television and radio broadcasters, satellite radio and satellite television providers, as well as cable television and wireline video providers all now are required to participate in the system. On Wednesday, November 9, 2011, the first nation-wide, top-to-bottom test of the Emergent Alert System will be conducted beginning at 2:00 pm Eastern time. While state and local EAS announcements are limited to two minutes, national alerts have no limit. This test is expected to last for three minutes. After FEMA initiates the alert to Primary Entry Point (PEP) stations, messages will flow outward and downward until every station has received it. Every station is required to report back with the success - or lack thereof - of the test.
"At the Federal Communications Commission's June 9, 2011 Agenda meeting, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau Chief Jamie Barnett, joined by representatives from FEMA and the National Weather Service, announced that the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) would take place at 2:00 PM (Eastern Standard Time) on November 9, 2011. The purpose of the test is to assess the reliability and effectiveness of the EAS as a public alert mechanism. EAS Participants currently participate in state-level monthly tests and local-level weekly tests, but no top-down review of the entire system has ever been undertaken. The Commission, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will use the results of this nationwide test to assess the reliability and effectiveness of the EAS as a public alert mechanism, and will work together with EAS stakeholders to make improvements to the system as appropriate."
As with many of these kinds of big government programs, they appear on the surface to be reasonable and intended only for the well-being of the citizens. If implemented and conducted in the manner presented to the citizens, then I would have few problems with them. Experience and reality demands a cautious scrutiny of the long-term ramifications of those programs. What begins as a good will "we only want to help you" policy ends up being a nightmare. Consider the overarching monster TSA has grown into, with plans now to set up random roadside checkpoints along highways (VIPR program). The end result is almost always loss of a little more freedom, and abuse by bureaucrats.
This scenario and the timing of this EAS exercise seems more like a demonstration of the President's power to control communications than like a simple test. Otherwise, the "test" could be carried out in the middle of the night when it would only affect security guards and insomniacs. In the planned manner, the interruption is very noticeable to everyone who is normally tuned in to most live media venues. We now have presidential edicts issued on a regular basis with the expressed intent of bypassing Congress and a passive (although Constitutionally a co-equal branch of government) Supreme Court. It's the new "We Can't Wait" philosophy. We have heard from senators who want to prevent broadcasts opposing their opinions from being allowed to be communicated. If this makes your spider-sense tingle, it is probably the Orwellian aspect of it all. At the discretion of the President or one of his appointees (current and future), every broadcast, or selective broadcasts, can be usurped at the whim of the Federal Government .
If you have been considering getting a Ham license but put off doing so, now might be a good time to get it. At least for now there is no requirement (that we know about) for radio manufacturers to include an inhibit function that can be commanded by a national broadcast signal (maybe like the LF one generated for time keeping). You might want a tube set.
The importance of communication by wire and radio in time of national emergency is emphasized in the Communications Act. Among the stated purposes of that statute is centralized regulation by the Federal Communications Commission in the interests of the national defense as well as to promote safety of life and property in general. The act also gives the President special emergency powers over electrical communication and radiation to further safeguard the Nation's defense and security during war or threat of war.
Electronic developments since World War II have made it necessary to prepare for the control of radiating devices in addition to regular communication facilities in any emergency. This is necessary because certain equipment, though not used for communication purposes, can send out emissions which could be used as a "beam" to guide hostile aircraft, submarines, and radio-controlled missiles. It was at the request of the Department of Defense that the Commission several years ago initiated a program for regulating electromagnetic radiation in the defense effort. In 1951 Congress gave the President additional emergency authority to deal with these radiations as a defense measure. The Chief Executive subsequently empowered the Federal Communications Commission to draft and enforce regulations in that connection. The text of this legislation and the related Executive Order were published in the Commission's previous annual report.
These additional delegated powers are being used by the Commission to carry out the so-called CONELRAD project for emergency and temporary control. The first step was effecting a plan of procedure to be followed by broadcast stations. during armed attack. This was announced by the White House on December 2, 1952, in 'the following statement: The White House today announced a plan whereby standard radio broadcast stations may remain on the air immediately before and during air attack, while simultaneously minimizing the use of radio as a navigational aid to hostile aircraft.
No engineering method has yet been found to enable FM and TV stations to remain on the air.
The plan, called CONELRAD (Plan for the CONtrol of ELectromagnetic RADiation), is expected to be placed in operation in three months. Under present temporary arrangements, a detected air attack would have the immediate effect of silencing all broadcasting and telecasting until the attack or threat is ended.
This special system of emergency broadcasting, to be administered by the Federal Communications Commission, represents many months of close cooperation by the broadcasting industry with the Government. Although no station is required to remain on the air in this plan, to date more than 1,000 privately owned standard broadcast stations have volunteered to participate in CONELRAD and have spent approximately $1,500.000 of their own funds to make equipment changes necessary to operate in this new system.
The plan was developed on the basis of Executive Order No. 10312 (December 10. 1951) whereby the President authorized the Federal Communications Commission either to silence radio stations or to control their operations so that electromagnetic radiations may not aid the navigation of hostile aircraft, guided missiles and other devices of similar purpose. CONELRAD will be invoked upon announcement of an air raid alert by the Air Defense Command, USAF. All standard broadcast stations In the CONELRAD system will switch to one of two pre-designated frequencies (640 kc. or 1240 kc.) and broadcast to the public a continuous flow of accurate, official information, news and civil defense instructions.
On April 10, 1953, the Commission released the proposed CONELRAD rules and covering manual for broadcast station operation in an emergency. The rules became effective May 15 thereafter. More than 1,500 individual broadcast stations are now participating. CONELRAD plans for other radio services are being evolved and will be announced as quickly as each one is completed. The next such plan will be for the Amateur Radio Service.
Her is a TIME magazine report on CONELRAD from 1963.
Posted on 10/27/2011
These items are an archive of past Topical Smorgasbord items that have appeared on the RF Cafe homepage. In keeping with
the "cafe" genre, these tidbits of information are truly a smorgasbord of topics. They all pertain to topics
that are related to the general engineering and science theme of RF Cafe.