FEMA Coordinates First Bilingual EAS Test

Test message included text and spoken-word audio messages in English and Spanish
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent the first bilingual alert message via Emergency Alert System on Nov. 17, and according to insiders, it went off without a hitch.

The message was sent as part of the fourth in the series of regional IPAWS tests conducted by FEMA, and contained fully populated information blocks in English and Spanish. These test sequences were sent to stations in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada.

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According to test organizers, full message text and true voice spoken word audio messages were sent, received and broadcast by the participating test partner stations. Broadcasters used the Digital Alert Systems DASDEC-II emergency communications platform to conduct the multilingual EAS test, said Edward Czarnecki, senior director for strategy and global government affairs for Monroe Electronics, the parent company of Digital Alert Systems.

“The successful completion of this test gives us and our broadcast partners confidence that we have a flexible and workable path forward to support multilingual public alert and warning in this country,” Czarnecki said.

The test represents a number of firsts for the nation’s EAS system, including the first transmission of a multilingual alert message by FEMA and the first use of multilingual alerting as part of a live regional test.

During the live test FEMA initiated a National Periodic Test (NPT) through the company’s DASEOC emergency communications platform as a Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) message in English and Spanish. The bilingual EAS test message was sent at 1:20 p.m. PST at the FEMA demonstration booth at the International Association of Emergency Managers conference held in Las Vegas. FEMA notified all EAS device manufacturers ahead of time of the intent to originate a CAP message containing two fully populated information blocks to ensure that there would be no adverse reaction, said a source familiar with the inner workings of the test.

Multilingual alerting has been supported by the EAS CAP Industry Group, and multilingual capability was included in the Common Alerting Protocol Version 1.2 standard that was adopted by an international standards body in October 2006. Software upgrades for those EAS devices capable of selecting a preferred language from a CAP alert have also been made.

During preparation for the November IPAWS test, Al Kenyon, IPAWS test technical lead, struck up an email conversation with Tommy Balli, regional engineer for Entravision, which operates radio and television stations within the six-state test area. It was revealed that the EAS devices installed at the Entravision television stations could be made multilingual-capable and that Entravision was eager to test out the capability, the insider said.

FEMA and Entravision contacted the EAS device manufacturer to ensure that both the FEMA CAP origination tool and the EAS boxes at the stations could be made to handle multilingual CAP alerts. The EAS boxes in the FEMA IPAWS Lab received the updated software and were tested for both functionality and compatibility with existing EAS devices.

The test itself was initiated by Joseph Nimmich, deputy administrator of FEMA. Nimmich briefly addressed an assembled group, including representatives of the participating state broadcast associations, state emergency communications committee chairs, state emergency management officials and representatives of National Weather Service Offices, a source in attendance told Radio World.

A minute after initiating the test, more than 1,400 EAS devices in the six-state area retrieved the message, the source said. “We [demonstrated] a new joint government/industry capability in front of an audience that can make a difference,” the source said.

Broadcast stations using the DASDEC systems equipped with OmniLingual Alert Module software were able to display the alert in the language of their choice — a English, Spanish or both. Information included the expanded alert text, plus audio in both languages. Some stations automatically aired the Spanish version of the FEMA NPT, followed by the English version, while others stations coupled the OmniLingual software with DASDEC MultiStation software to enable different language selections for each program stream.

“The success of today’s test is exciting, as it indicates that we do indeed have the capacity to convey multilingual public alerts and warnings to the diverse communities we serve,” said Lillian McDonald, managing director of ECHO Minnesota, a nonprofit organization serving cultural communities, and a partner with Twin Cities Public Television, which participated in the test.

Back at the IPAWS booth in Las Vegas, bystanders watched screens and listened as the local CBS affiliate played the message in English; across the aisle, the Entravision station played the Spanish version of the same message. This activity was duplicated in Albuquerque where IPAWS team members observed a monitoring suite capturing multiple television and radio broadcast off air, the source said.

Looking to 2016, FEMA plans to continue regional NPT testing throughout the first half of the year. New FCC rules regarding EAS participant action upon receipt of an NPT message will go into effect July 30, 2016.


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