FCC Considers WEA-EAS Trial a Victory

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The FCC considers the 2018 nationwide test of Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and the Emergency Alert System (EAS) a success. The October 2, 2018 test was the first nationwide trial of WEA and the first live joint test for both alerting messaging technologies.

A report out this week says the test demonstrated the effectiveness of WEA and the EAS as nationwide alerting tools. The agency also says in the report the trial showed FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), can disseminate these alerts to the public.

Several local emergency management agencies and other entities conducted surveys about who received the WEAs and shared results with the Commission. The New York City Emergency Management Department reported of 2,351 respondents, 81.4 percent reported receiving the WEA test message, most within 10 minutes. 17.3 percent reported that they did not receive a WEA message, citing a number of explanations such as spotty wireless service, being on the subway, or turning the phone off or set to airplane mode or “Do Not Disturb.” But most (77 percent), cited no known reason for not receiving the message.

The alert software vendor Everbridge conducted a survey and received responses from over 3,500 people across all 50 states. 83 percent of respondents said they received the WEA alert on their smartphone, while 15 percent they did not.

News outlets reported inconsistent delivery, “however, most media coverage notes that failure to receive the test message was not unique to any particular device, location, or wireless provider,” said the FCC in the report. Most of the problems reported among those who received the WEA concerned the alert signal or vibration cadence. Everbridge noted respondents who reported receiving the alert but not hearing the signal had,“likely put their phone on silent.”

What’s next? The FCC’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau notes the full Commission is examining issues related to measuring and reporting WEA execution, including whether to adopt performance and delivery standards or benchmarks. PSHSB recommends the agency continue to develop tools for alert originators to use WEA more effectively, such as creating a database on WEA availability within their jurisdictions.

The PSHSB also recommends exploring opportunities with state and local alert originators to determine alternative means for gathering and assessing data regarding WEA delivery.

Over the next year, the bureau will contact wireless carriers to ensure the presence and delivery of the required WEA audio tone and vibration cadence, so such alerts are accessible to individuals with disabilities. The bureau will also work with wireless carriers serving Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to encourage and help their election to participate in WEA.

Published April 10, 2019

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