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FCC updates Emergency Alert System handbook for broadcasters

Damage from Hurricane Ian is visible from a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft flying over Fort Myers, Florida on Thursday, September 29, 2022.
Damage from Hurricane Ian is visible from a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft flying over Fort Myers, Florida on Thursday, September 29, 2022. The Emergency Alert System was used to notify citizens about the storm. (Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kruz Sanders, U.S. Coast Guard)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued an updated version of its Emergency Alert System manual for broadcast television and radio stations, cable and satellite operators and others who are required to receive and transmit those notifications.

The handbook was updated in February, and is available to download for free at the FCC’s website by clicking or tapping this link. A copy of the 2023 EAS Handbook must be available in a location within a broadcast station, cable headend or similar facility where an operator is on duty to receive and transmit emergency notifications distributed through the EAS.

Dan Kelly, the director of technical services for the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, told the industry website Radio World this week that the updated EAS manual contains some slight modifications that were linked to a revision announcement made last September. That includes changes to certain event codes to reflect updated language, including a change from “Emergency Action Notification” to “National Emergency message.”

The last time the EAS handbook was updated by the FCC occurred in 2021 during the ongoing coronavirus health pandemic. The pandemic didn’t excuse broadcasters and other technical facilities from their obligations regarding the EAS. Any broadcast operator who hasn’t replaced the 2021 EAS Handbook with the updated copy should do so immediately.

The EAS is used by national, state and local agencies to distribute critical emergency messages to citizens on a number of matters. In most areas, residents are familiar with the EAS as being one of the primary warning systems for severe weather events, including floods, tornadoes and destructive thunderstorms.

The primary function of the EAS is to allow the President of the United States to communicate with citizens during a catastrophic national emergency, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in charge of coordinating the delivery of the message through the system. To date, no president has used the full alert capabilities of the EAS to address the nation.

The distribution of state-level and regional emergency alerts is done on a voluntary basis and not mandated by the FCC or Congress.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).