FCC Has a Plan to Make Emergency Alerts Even Better





The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has yet again extended the initiation date of its new rule for emergency alert broadcasting. The new rule will require all broadcasting of visual emergency communications to be accompanied by an audio stream. This will enable blind or otherwise visually impaired viewers to hear important details during an emergency when previously this wasn’t a feature on non-news broadcasting.

The ruling was originally supposed to take effect on May 26th, 2015, but due to multiple deadline extensions, it has not yet been enforced. The new deadline is scheduled to begin on November 26th, 2024.

So, what’s taking so long to ensure everyone has access to critical information in real-time when they need it most? Technology simply hasn’t caught up to all the requirements of this rule. In theory, it may sound simple, but there is no automated way to convey graphics and maps related to any emergency situation.

Text-to-speech works well for conveying written information, but maps outlining areas in danger or specific graphics including instructions on how to protect oneself during an emergency are left out of the audio details.

The National Association of Broadcasters asked for a two-year extension so that technological advancements in artificial intelligence, including ATSC 3.0, can catch up to the task. The Federal Communications Commission allowed the association an additional 18 months to get this system into practice.

Some conditions outlined by the Federal Communications Commission include: 

  • The extent to which broadcasters still need the waiver
  • A description of the National Association of Broadcasters’ outreach to the disability community and its efforts to develop standards and best practices and train broadcasters in their use so that critical details are conveyed to the blind or visually impaired
  • A description of the National Association of Broadcasters and broadcasters’ efforts to develop an automated solution to enable compliance with the aural description requirement
  • A description of training and best practices for broadcasters to offer effective communication of critical emergency information. Additionally, if an effective and preferred alternative to an automated technical solution is developed during the waiver period, subsequent reports should provide information as to the implementation of this alternative solutions

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