FCC embraces emergency alert protocol

The Federal Communications Commission is endorsing adoption of the common alerting protocol technical standard for the nation's next-generation emergency alert system, according to a Nov. 2 notice in the Federal Register.

But the FCC said its requirement to system participants to adopt the protocol assumes the Homeland Security Department also endorses the protocol as expected.

The protocol, developed by 130 emergency managers and technologists, was approved by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards in 2004. It is a standard format for sending and receiving emergency warning messages across multiple platforms.

Several government agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey and National Weather Service, have implemented the protocol, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is currently testing the protocol and expects to adopt it, the FCC said in the Nov. 2 notice.

"We conclude that all Emergency Alert System participants will be required to accept alerts and warnings in the CAP format should that protocol be adopted by FEMA," the FCC notice said. "Although this requirement requires action by FEMA, we find that adopting it now furthers the prompt development of a state-of-the-art, next-generation national Emergency Alert System."

The FCC also stipulated that participants in the existing emergency alert system must continue to participate while performing upgrades to create the next-generation system. Furthermore, it rejected the idea that the National Weather Service's weather radio alerts can replace the emergency alert system.

The emergency alert system was established in the 1960s with a mandate to carry presidential alerts. It also is used voluntarily to carry state and local emergency warnings. The next-generation system will carry alerts to broadcast and cable television, radio, cell phones, telephones, e-mail and other messaging systems.

A number of information technology contractors are active in the emergency management market. They produce hardware and software products for sending, receiving and managing alerts and warnings, and for linking with broader warning networks.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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