You are undoubtedly aware of the Emergency Alert System (EAS), the national public warning system used to address the American public during emergencies. You may have seen the system in action, used by state or local authorities to deliver important emergency information, such as AMBER alerts and weather information targeted to your area.
The EAS is actually a national system that also provides communications capabilities to the President to address the American public during a national emergency. It involves the resources of broadcasters, cable television operators, satellite radio providers, and direct broadcast satellite (DBS) providers.
On November 9, at 2:00 p.m. (EST), the FCC and FEMA have scheduled the first-ever test of the Presidential Emergency Action Notification (EAN) of the EAS. The test will last about 30 seconds. During the test, cable customers will see a special EAS channel regardless of the cable channel they are watching (You can see an example of an alert here.).
As the EAS test runs, the audio feed will advise viewers that it is only a test. The onscreen text will simply state: “This is an Emergency Action Notification,” and in some cases, “for the United States” or “for the District of Columbia,” depending on the equipment.
The EAN message itself is set by the federal government; cable systems are required to pass through the government’s message to their viewers.
The cable industry is taking action to assist the government in educating consumers about the test. Our member companies are airing public service announcements from the FCC to raise viewer awareness (Copies of these PSAs are posted on NCTA’s website). Cable systems are also using invoice messages to alert consumers to the upcoming test. And cable operators and programmers are linking to websites with more government information about the test, such as this one from the FCC.
Our message is simple: This is just a test of the system, and no action is required.
NCTA continues to inform our member companies about test developments and has briefed other groups, such as the Cable Center Customer Care Committee and state and regional cable associations. Cable programmers also have pledged support in educating consumers.
An end-to-end nationwide test of the system is critical to assess the reliability and effectiveness of the EAS as a public alert mechanism. Cable will be expending every effort to help ensure the test is a success.
UPDATE: You might also want to read this post at the Time Warner Cable Untangled blog.