WASHINGTON, DC -- Suzanne Goucher, President & CEO of the Maine Association of Broadcasters testified this morning before the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications in a hearing titled "Communicating With the Public During Emergencies: An Update on Federal Alert and Warning Efforts."
Below is a transcript of her oral testimony.
Good morning, Mister Chairman and Members of the Committee. My name is Suzanne Goucher. I am the President and CEO of the Maine Association of Broadcasters. MAB is thankful to the committee for requesting this hearing and for your interest in improving emergency communications to the public. I'm honored to be here to share with you the valuable, often life-saving, public service that full power local radio and television stations provide during times of crisis.
When disaster strikes, Americans know they can turn to their local broadcasters for news and information. When the power goes out, which it does - when phone service and the internet go down, which they do - broadcasters move heaven and earth to stay on the air, delivering vital information to battery-operated receivers. From the devastating tornadoes that swept through Missouri, Alabama, Massachusetts, and my own State of Maine in recent weeks, to the flooding of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and the current flooding of the Souris River in North Dakota, to the wildfires throughout the southwest and the southeast, everywhere across our nation, local communities depend on their broadcasters to deliver on-the-ground, street-by-street coverage, before, during, and after a disaster strikes.
In addition to our ongoing, comprehensive news coverage of emergencies, broadcasters are also the backbone of our nation's Emergency Alert System, or EAS.
EAS is a network that seamlessly connects public safety authorities to over-the-air radio and television stations and cable systems with the push of a button. EAS is used during sudden, unpredictable or unforeseen events, to alert people to take immediate action to preserve life and property in the face of an imminent threat.
Perhaps the most visible, headline-grabbing and heart-warming use of EAS is for AMBER Alerts. Since broadcasters created this program in 1996, AMBER Alerts have helped bring 523 abducted children home safely.
Radio and television stations are proud of our keystone role in EAS. For sixty years - from the CONELRAD days of the Cold War, through the Emergency Broadcast System, to EAS, and now on to the next generation of alerting, broadcasters stand ready to be America's first informers. We consider the delivery of timely alerts and warnings to be the highest and best use of our spectrum, our facilities, and our resources.
The hot new buzz in the alerting community is "social networking" - and broadcasters are also leveraging their news-dissemination capabilities across these pathways. When you receive an email, a text alert, or a Facebook message from your local radio or TV station, you know you're getting reliable information from an authoritative source.
The ongoing effectiveness of the EAS network depends on several important factors. First, a training program for state and local public safety officials on how to use EAS is desperately needed. The knowledge and expertise of local authorities as to how and when to deploy EAS is currently at what we consider an unacceptable level. We stand ready to deliver the message, but first we need someone to deliver it to us. We applaud our friends at FEMA for undertaking the development of a training program, which will certify state and local officials to send alerts through the federal IPAWS gateway. While this is a good first step, it does not address those state and local officials that don't have the fundamental understanding of or willingness to use EAS. Some sort of incentive for them to take this training, such as tying it to grant funding would encourage a greater understanding of the beneficial uses of the system.
Second, FEMA is in the midst of implementing the next generation of public alerting, which will modernize the technology used to deliver EAS messages through the introduction of the Common Alerting Protocol - or CAP. This will require most broadcasters to replace their EAS equipment, at their own expense. This may cost a broadcasting station anywhere from $1200-$3000. We must ensure that as our stations are upgrading to receive and retransmit a CAP-formatted message, local and state jurisdictions have proper training and funding to be able to send us a CAP-formatted message. In addition, states must purchase and fund their own EAS origination equipment, and the federal government must ensure that its Primary Entry Point network is fully built-out. All of this will ensure that the public will indeed benefit from the next generation of public alerting.
We respectfully urge the committee to consider the creation of a national Working Group on Emergency Alerting. Governance authority for our national warning system is divided among several federal agencies, while the primary use of the system is at the state and local level. At the present, there is no mechanism to bring the message originators and the message deliverers together, except on an ad hoc basis. As a result, the system is not being used as effectively as it could be. Creation of a national Working Group would help to ensure that problems get addressed, issues get resolved, lines of communication remain open, and ideas for continual improvement of the system are brought to the fore.
Finally, broadcasters need credentialing from state and local authorities to allow them to access their facilities during times of emergency. Congressional action in this area could greatly enhance our ability to maintain operations and deliver vital information to our audiences.
I am grateful for this opportunity to share my views on emergency communications to the public, and I look forward to working with you toward our shared goal of keeping the American people safe through timely alerts and warnings. Thank you.
The National Association of Broadcasters is the premier advocacy association for America's broadcasters. NAB advances radio and television interests in legislative, regulatory and public affairs. Through advocacy, education and innovation, NAB enables broadcasters to best serve their communities, strengthen their businesses and seize new opportunities in the digital age. Learn more at www.nab.org.