The current Emergency Alert System EAS and the Commercial Mobile by 33z50F


									U.S. Regulation of Emergency Alert
Systems: The Accessibility Aspect
Salimah LaForce, Georgia Institute of Technology, Wireless RERC/Center for Advanced
Communications Policy
Helena Mitchell, PhD, Georgia Institute of Technology, Center for Advanced Communications
Policy/Wireless RERC

    United States (U.S.) Regulation of Emergency Alert Systems: The Accessibility Aspect
assesses the progress of policy directives in promoting the inclusive design of a national alerting
system. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is responsible for rules and
regulations governing the provision of interstate and international communications; a key
responsibility is managing the national alert system. The rate at which technology advances,
however, can outrun the regulatory process for managing the rules which govern information
communication technologies. In an increasingly mobile society and in response to natural and
manmade disasters, such as the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and hurricane Katrina,
the FCC has made the modernization of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) a national priority.
Additionally, the FCC has developed technical rules and system requirements for a separate
system, the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS). Both the EAS and the CMAS include
provisions for making the alerts accessible. This paper presents some of the barriers to and
facilitators of accessibility within the U.S. regulatory framework for EAS and CMAS.

Accessible Alerts, Universal Design, Sensory Disabilities, Wireless Emergency
Communications, Common Alerting Protocol, Emergency Alert System, Commercial Mobile
Alert System, Federal Communications Commission

    In the U.S., the goal of the regulation of the telecommunications industry is to protect the
public interest by outlining rules that aim to ensure a fair market, encourage innovation and
protect the consumer. Also important is the creation of policies and enforceable regulations that
assure reliability of telecommunications capabilities and systems during emergencies. The
current Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) are
government systems that require the cooperation of private industry to deliver emergency alerts.
At the state and local level, the voluntary aspect of the system, while promoting participation,
also lends itself to inconsistent implementation of the rules and regulations for participating in
emergency alert notifications, effectively becoming a barrier to accessibility [1]. Research on
this topic [2] has found that it is critical to reinforce and promote compliance and rules set by the
Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Some rules need more “teeth” to overcome
barriers to access [3] and many stakeholders representing the interests of people with
disabilities recommend that EAS participation be made mandatory [4]. These discussions have
led to conflicting interests of policy makers, manufacturers and the public [5].

    Though some of the challenges of implementing a fully accessible emergency alerting
system are technological in nature, developments such as the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP)
and the proliferation of text messaging can function as accessibility facilitators. A
comprehensive assessment of government and industry progress in wireless alerting conducted
by the Wireless RERC and the Center for Advanced Communications Policy suggests that the
overarching challenge is the lack of concerted effort by affected stakeholders towards
implementing an integrated and fully accessible solution [6]. A report by the Partnership for
Public Warning [7] indicated there are more than 60 companies which provided mobile wireless
phone alerting. Yet recent analysis has found that only seven were identified as having features
helpful to people with disabilities [8].

    Overall, industry has been slow to add accessible, universally designed features that would
be useful to all users during emergencies. Likewise, as natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina
have demonstrated, the needs of the most vulnerable populations of the elderly and people with
disabilities are often not considered or incorporated into aspects of emergency planning or
distribution of emergency alerting [9]. As such, actively enforced regulatory sanctions are
necessary to facilitate the provision of accessible mobile wireless alerting mechanisms.

Regulatory Framework for EAS & CMAS
    Federal government regulatory initiatives on mobile wireless alerting serve to define a
framework to create a national emergency alerting system. The following section discusses two
key Federal regulatory initiatives that include provisions for enhancing access to emergency
alerts by people with disabilities: EAS and CMAS.

    The FCC, established by the Communications Act of 1934, is the regulatory agency
responsible for rules and regulations governing the provision of interstate and international
communications in the U.S. The FCC is responsible for regulating emergency communications

    Beginning in 2004, the FCC began new rulemakings to review EAS. They sought comment
on how EAS could be improved given the move from analog to a digitally-based alert and
warning system. In part, due to the proliferation and public consumption of advanced
technologies such as wireless, comments were also sought on how EAS could be more
effective for warning the American public, and how it could provide equal access to information
and alerts for individuals with disabilities [10]. Over a period of three years stakeholders
representing people with disabilities filed comments with the FCC that addressed the
accessibility of next generation, digitally based alert and warning systems, and generally,
commenters agreed that all wireless device users would benefit from a multi-modal approach.
Specifically, commenters suggested the possibility that the alerts, in addition to television and
radio broadcasts, could be transmitted via text messages, audio recordings, video and graphics
opening up the potential to accommodate various levels of sensory, cognitive and language

    A later Report & Order stated that “all EAS Participants must be able to receive messages
formatted pursuant to the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP 1.1) within 180 days of the adoption
of said protocol by the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA [11]]” [12]. CAP 1.1
enables alerts to be sent in a variety of formats which can potentially enable EAS alerts to be
more accessible to people with disabilities. Testing of CAP 1.1 shows that emergency
messages can be simultaneously delivered to wireless devices in multiple formats containing
the audio, text, image and video components of an emergency message [13]. With CAP, the
reach of emergency alerts and information can be expanded beyond broadcast media to
alternative public alert mechanisms which is often better suited for people with disabilities. The
use of CAP may ease the complexity and cost associated with accommodating the needs of
people with disabilities [14]. Though the rules have been put in place by the FCC,
implementation is contingent upon action by FEMA which is still forthcoming [15]. Thus, the
rulemaking process provided the opportunity for stakeholders to facilitate the provision of an
accessible EAS, however, lack of cross-collaborative efforts amongst all interested parties
remains a barrier to deployment [16].

    In the meantime, due to the steady rise in wireless phone penetration in the U.S. (some 84%
of the total population [17]) the FCC has been working on a separate initiative in mobile wireless
phone alerting. Mandated by Congressional statute [18] the FCC established the Commercial
Mobile Service Alert Advisory Committee (CMSAAC) to develop technical standards and
protocols to enable commercial mobile service (CMS) providers to send emergency alerts to
their customers. After a year of deliberation the CMSAAC submitted their recommendations to
the FCC who subsequently initiated a rulemaking in the matter. Based on public comments
from industry, government and advocacy stakeholders, and on the technical requirements and
protocols recommended by CMSAAC the FCC adopted technology neutral rules governing
CMS providers who elect to transmit alerts to their subscribers [19]. CMAS participation is not
mandatory and thus may experience similar enforcement, compliance and consistency with
regard to accessibility issues as does EAS.

   Some key CMAS requirements are:

      Participating CMS Providers must transmit three classes of alerts - Presidential,
       Imminent Threat, and AMBER alerts.
      The alert message format shall include event type or category; area affected
       recommended action, expiration time and sending agency and must not exceed 90
      The use of embedded Uniform Resource Locators (URL) or telephone numbers in
       CMAS alerts is strictly prohibited.
       CMS Providers are required to target alerts at the county-level.
      Participating CMS Providers must include an audio attention signal and vibration
       cadence on CMAS-capable handsets utilizing specific temporal patterns as outlined in
       the CMSAAC recommendations. Such use of the outlined audio attention signals and
       vibrating cadences must be restricted to CMAS alerts.
      CMAS alerts may not preempt a voice or data session in progress.

    The CMAS final rules only require a specific alert tone and vibrating cadence as their
accessibility measures. As the CMAS First Report & Order discusses, text-to-speech (TTS)
enabled wireless mobile devices would allow individuals who are blind or have low vision to
benefit from CMAS alerts. However, the CMAS rules do not make any TTS requirements, and
only encourage providers to offer devices with TTS capability to the end user [20]. Much like
the current EAS, this will force people who are blind or have low vision to either 1) seek an
alternate source of emergency information once they hear the alert tone, or 2) purchase high-
cost devices and/or TTS software to interpret the content of the emergency alert. This barely
meets the call for functionally equivalent access to services afforded to users of
Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS), which stipulates that they shall not pay more to
access voice via TRS [21]. Since TTS is not a mandatory feature for CMAS, blind users may
pay more to gain functionally equivalent access.

    The display mode of CMAS alerts has also been left up to the discretion of CMS providers
and manufacturers to determine which display modes will best meet the needs of their
customers with disabilities. Some display-mode considerations are font, font size and font color.
Unless the manufacturer employs universal design methods, or consults the expertise of a
technical disability and usability specialist, the end result may not be appropriate or practical for
users with disabilities.

     Further, within the CMAS final rules there is a prohibition which on the surface does not
appear to affect accessibility but in actuality hinders equal access to emergency information,
namely, the exclusion of URLs and 800 numbers in the alert message. Preliminary results from
field testing conducted by the Wireless RERC’s Wireless Emergency Communications (WEC)
project has shown that users with sensory disabilities prefer to have access to a second tier of
more detailed emergency information that is accessed by way of the same device that provided
the alert message, which in a field tested prototype system was furnished through a URL.

    To achieve equitable and accessible mobile wireless emergency alerting the push of
regulatory sanctions should match the pull of industry innovation to leverage the strength of both
actors in influencing the development and deployment of accessible alerting systems. One
approach is to focus on encouraging government agencies, industry and consumer groups to
direct their expertise and resources towards providing accessible wireless alerts to all users.
Disability stakeholder input in the regulatory process has increased recognition that the needs of
people with disabilities must be considered proactively in the development of emergency
communications. Additional areas that currently operate as barriers to accessibility that could
benefit from FCC rulemakings include 1) more rigorous enforcement of the current EAS rules
governing accessibility; and 2) CMAS, new and proposed rulemakings, would need to address
the issue of full accessibility to people with sensory disabilities.

    Other key approaches which can facilitate benefits to all the stakeholders and the
sustainability of progressive and accessible emergency alerting systems include:

      FEMA, in consultation with State emergency management agencies, should encourage
       collaboration among the public safety community, government agencies and
       stakeholders in the disability community during the design process and in the emergency
       planning and recovery process.
      The FCC should revisit the accessibility provisions in the CMAS rulemaking and include
       TTS as a required specification for CMAS capable handsets.
      Research and development should be conducted by industry and academia to examine
       ways to allow for the use of URLs and 800 numbers in CMAS messages. While network
       congestion is a valid concern, rather than simple prohibition, the FCC should release a
       Notice of Inquiry concerning methods and technologies capable of alleviating network
       congestion during times of crisis.
      Encourage industry participation in the provision of accessible emergency alerting
       through subsidies and/or tax incentives.
      Appropriate personnel within government agencies and disability organizations through
       educational outreach should show industry how the benefits of the universal design of
       accessible emergency alerting systems can help their bottom line. With the
       technological paradigm shift from analog to digital, wireline to wireless, and the aging

        population, what was once considered a niche market is fast approaching the norm-a
        fact that industry can relate to.

    Many parties are addressing EAS and CMAS but until the parties reach consensus,
separate delivery and system technologies will continue to be deployed offering different, and in
many cases, unacceptable levels of interoperability and accessibility. Outreach and awareness
are vital to successful EAS and CMAS utilization. Increased efforts to reach potential
beneficiaries of accessible wireless alerting technologies and products will result in an improved
EAS and CMAS capable of reaching all citizens, including those with disabilities.


1. WGBH National Center for Accessible Media and Rehabilitation Engineering Research
Center on Telecommunications Access (2006). Comments filed in the FCC’s EAS First Report
and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, EB Docket No. 04-296, 24 January
2. Mitchell, H, editor. Emergency Communications: Lifeline to Public Safety. Proceedings of
State of Technology Conference on Mobile Wireless Technologies; 2004 May 11-12; Atlanta,
3. Ibid, p. 165
4. American Foundation for the Blind, RERC on Telecommunications Access and
Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Inc, et al (2005). Comments filed in EAS
Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, EB Docket No. 04-296, 10 November
5. Mitchell, H (2004). Proceedings of State of Technology Conference on Mobile Wireless
Technologies, Emergency Communications: Lifeline to Public Safety, p. 174, Atlanta: Wireless
6. Mitchell, H, Lucia, F, LaForce, S, and Yancey, L (2008). Assessment of Government and
Industry Progress in Wireless Emergency Alerting: providing people with disabilities accessible
alerts, Atlanta: Center for Advanced Communications Policy/Wireless RERC (unpublished
white paper)
7. Partnership for Public Warning (2004). Alerting America, A Directory of Public Warning,
Products, Services & Technologies, PPW Report 2004-3, October
8. Mitchell, H, Lucia, F, LaForce, S, and Yancey, L (2008). Assessment of Government and
Industry Progress in Wireless Emergency Alerting: providing people with disabilities accessible
alerts, Atlanta: Center for Advanced Communications Policy/Wireless RERC (unpublished white
9. National Council on Disability (2006). The Impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on People
with Disabilities: A Look Back and Remaining Challenges, 3 August
10. Federal Communications Commission (2004). In the Matter of the Review of the
Emergency Alert System, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, EB Docket No. 04-294, 12 August
11. FEMA coordinates the response to disasters in the U.S that overwhelm the resources of
local and state authorities.
12. Federal Communications Commission (2007). In the matter of the Review of the
Emergency Alert System, Second Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking, EB Docket No. 04-296, 12 July
13. Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (2005). OASIS
Standard CAP-V1.1, 1 October
14. Ibid

15. Federal Communications Commission (2007). In the matter of the Review of the
Emergency Alert System, Second Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking, EB Docket No. 04-296, 12 July
16. United States Government Accountability Office (2007). Report to Congressional
Committees: Emergency preparedness, Current Emergency Alerts System Has Limitations,
and Development of a New Integrated System Will Be Challenging, GAO-07-411, March
17. International Association for Wireless Telecommunications also known as CTIA. Wireless
Quick Facts: Mid-year Figures [Online]. 2008 [cited 2008 Sept 29]; [1 screen]. Available from:
18. 109th Congress of the United States (2006). Section 602: Warning Alert and Response
Network Act of the Security and Accountability For Every Port Act of 2006 (SAFE Port Act), PL
109-347, 13 October
19. Federal Communications Commission (2008). First Report and Order In the Matter of the
Commercial Mobile Alert System, PS Docket No. 07-287, 9 April
20. Ibid, pp. 28-29
21. 101st Congress of the United States (1990). Title IV, The Americans with Disabilities Act of
1990, PL 101-336, 26 July


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