Friday, April 6, 2018

Federal Communications Commission Regimen Could Help Prevent False Alerts, Official Says

Law360 (April 5, 2018, 7:55 PM EDT) -- FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel suggested Thursday that the agency should use some of its built-in reporting processes to encourage states to sharpen their emergency communications plans in the aftermath of a rogue alert sent by a misguided Hawaii state employee earlier this year.

Rosenworcel said the FCC oversees the technical aspects of alerts that warn TV and radio audiences of impending threats, and she said reports that states are required to file with the agency are an opportunity for greater accountability.

“The FCC can help prevent this from happening by serving as a convening force to develop a checklist of best practices — including security protocols — at the local, state, and federal level,” she said.

Her comments came during a field hearing in Hawaii to more closely examine next steps after a false missile alert terrified island residents in January. An FCC investigation found that a state-level employee blasted out the alert during a training exercise he believed was real.

The Emergency Alert System, overseen by the FCC, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service, requires TV and radio broadcasters, cable companies and satellite providers to carry important messages to their viewers during national emergencies. Local officials can also send messages over the system, including Amber Alerts about missing children and severe weather warnings.

According to its website, the FCC checks to make sure state and local EAS plans conform to its specifications. But Rosenworcel said Thursday that the agency should go beyond simply checking to make sure the plans exist.

Rosenworcel said the FCC can use its filing requirements to incentivize cooperation, encouraging states and localities to come together and develop better emergency management practices. The FCC should also be making sure that the plans are updated, she said. She pointed out that Hawaii's state plan was a decade old at the time of the January incident. 

“The act of filing ... should be more than bureaucratic,” she said.

Also on the panel on Thursday was Nicole McGinnis, deputy chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. She said the bureau is finalizing its report on the Jan. 13 incident and that its key findings include many layers of human error and a lack of state-level safeguards to prevent one person from sending a false message in real time.

During a preliminary discussion of the report’s findings in January, the FCC said the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency did not follow the standard script for emergency drills, leading the employee to misinterpret the exercise and to send the alert stating that “this is not a drill.”

FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau Chief Lisa Fowlkes previously testified that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is responsible for managing the content of emergency alerts. The FCC’s role is to work with broadcasters and wireless carriers to manage how communications infrastructure reacts when transmitting an alert, she said.

The FCC’s final report on the incident is still forthcoming, but officials have pledged to work with FEMA to help states implement better practices going forward.

Original article can be found here ➤ https://www.law360.com

No comments: