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GAO report: nationwide EAS test failed in two states and American Samoa

When the federal government conducted a nationwide Emergency Alert System (EAS) test more than a year ago, the test-signal and information was not received by American Samoa. Two states also received only part of it, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report dated last month and released late last week.


For American Samoa, the Primary Entry Point (PEP) radio station is WVUV-FM, which is also the local broadcaster that is designated the main EAS station for the territory. WVUV is one of two local radio stations owned by South Seas Broadcasting Inc., which also owns 93KHJ.


The November 2011 nationwide test, which includes all states and territories, was coordinated by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and other federal entities.


Responding to Samoa News questions, South Seas Broadcasting president Larry Fuss said WVUV is connected to the FEMA control center via a dial-up circuit from the American Samoa TeleCommunications Authority.


“For whatever reason, FEMA was unable to establish a connection with WVUV on the day of the test,” he said. “The EAS gear is all in place and it is functional,” he added.


“Last I heard, FEMA was planning to switch to some sort of satellite connectivity, but I’m still waiting on exact details. When another test is conducted, we’re ready on our end,” said Fuss via e-mail from the mainland.


According to the GAO’s 46-page report, FEMA reported that three of the 63 PEP stations were unable to receive and retransmit the alert due to technical reasons during the 2011 EAS test. The three PEP stations were located in New Mexico, Alabama, and American Samoa.


“Failures at those stations significantly contributed to low national-level alert reception rates in those states and that territory,” said GAO. “In particular, our analysis of FCC data found that nearly 90 percent of broadcasters in New Mexico, almost 70 percent of broadcasters in Alabama, and 100 percent of broadcasters in American Samoa failed to receive the national-level alert.”


“According to FEMA, connectivity issues with the specialized EAS equipment used at the PEP stations were the reasons for the failure,” said GAO and noted that “FEMA plans to modernize PEP stations with a dedicated satellite network, and officials expect this dedicated network to provide more reliable connection to the PEP stations when fully operational by fall 2013.”


FEMA officials told GAO that 50 PEP stations have been added to the dedicated satellite network . “According to FEMA officials, once operational, this network will be the primary connection between FEMA and the PEP stations in the event of a presidential alert; the traditional telephone-based distribution network will provide a redundant backup connection,” said GAO.


FEMA conducted the November 2011 first-ever nationwide test of the national-level EAS in response to GAO’s prior reports about the lack of EAS testing.


In conducting the test, FEMA initiated a national-level alert to be distributed through the EAS daisy chain to EAS participants, which include about 26,000 broadcasters, cable operators, and other EAS participants.


To obtain information on the results of the test, FCC directed all EAS participants to report either electronically or via paper report by December 27, 2011, on whether they had received and retransmitted the alert. Although December 27, 2011, was the deadline, FCC continued to accept paper reports from EAS participants past the deadline.


Among the four main recommendations by GAO in its report is that FEMA, in conjunction with the FCC, establish guidance (e.g., procedures, best practices) that will assist participating state and local alerting authorities to fully implement and test Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) components and ensure integration and interoperability.


Additionally, develop and implement a strategy for regularly testing the national-level EAS, including examining the need  for a national test code, developing milestones and time frames, improving data collection efforts, and reporting on after-action plans.


FEMA, a bureau of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, concurred with the recommendations and provided examples of actions the federal agency will undertake to address the recommendations, said GAO.


Regarding efforts to improve nationwide EAS testing, FEMA plans to work with federal partners, including FCC, to create a national test code, develop milestones and timeframes for future testing, improve data collection efforts, and report on after-action plans.