FCC Publishes Blue Alert for EAS/WEA Rules in the Federal Register

Following the December Open Meeting, the Commission released a Report and Order (“Order”) amending Section 11.31(e) the FCC’s Emergency Alert System (“EAS”) rules to adopt the three-character code BLU as a new EAS event code to enable the delivery of Blue Alerts over the EAS and Wireless Emergency Alerts (“WEA”). This item became effective January 18, 2018 pursuant to the Federal Register publication. Blue Alerts, as established in the voluntary Blue Alert Guidelines, may only be issued when a request is made by a law enforcement agency having primary jurisdiction over the incident, and there has been 1) a death or serious injury of a law enforcement officer in the line of duty; 2) a threat to cause death or serious injury to a law enforcement officer; or 3) a law enforcement officer is missing in connection with official duties. The Order finds that the EAS is an effective and technically feasible mechanism to deliver Blue Alerts, and that EAS Blue Alerts can be sent via the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (“IPAWS”) and via the EAS and WEA systems. The Commission adopts the following for EAS Participants:

Delivery & Required Information

  • The Commission accordingly urges alert originators to initiate Blue Alerts via IPAWS and include detailed information for each Alert, as required by the Blue Alert Guidelines. EAS participants are required to create video crawls based on the enhanced text contained within the CAP message.
  • The Order encourages EAS manufacturers and Participants to facilitate delivery of IPAWS-based EAS Blue Alerts when an alert is first delivered via broadcast.
    • The Order distinguishes IPAWS from EAS messages. EAS is a national public warning system that uses geographic targeting through which participants deliver alerts to the public to warn them of impending emergencies and dangers using three-character codes. EAS Blue Alerts can be sent on the IPAWS, which uses the IP-based Common Alerting Protocol (“CAP”) to deliver alerts with detailed text files, non-English alerts, or other content-rich data that would not be available to EAS alerts delivered via the broadcast-based daisy chain.
  • Blue Alerts are now permitted to be deployed via WEA using existing alerting methodologies and consistent with the WEA rules. The FCC declines to adopt a separate classification for WEA Blue Alerts at this time and notes that this issue will remain pending in the docket for further comment until March 19, 2018.
    • Alerts via WEA must satisfy minimum requirements for initiation of an “Imminent Threat” Alert, and the Commission finds Blue Alerts deployed via WEA would meet this requirement.

Implementation Timeline

  • The Commission encourages stakeholders to work together voluntarily to implement Blue Alerts “as swiftly as possible,” but recognizes that some time is necessary for equipment manufacturers and participating Commercial Mobile Service Providers to prepare equipment and networks to process Blue Alerts sent over EAS and WEA.
  • EAS Participants may update their software to add the BLU event code on a voluntary basis, and the Commission notes that all EAS Participants should be able to accomplish this upgrade because as of July 30, 2016, participants were required to upgrade to a software that can, at minimum, accommodate upgrades for EAS modifications.
  • The Order provides a period of 12 months from the effective date of the rules  (January 18, 2019) to enable the delivery of Blue Alerts of EAS, and a period of 18 months from the effective date (July 18, 2019) to enable the delivery of Blue Alerts over WEA.
  • The Commission finds the main cost to EAS Participants that elect to install BLU will be the cost of downloading the software updates and associated alert testing.

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