RW Special Report


Terrorism Attacks Cue EAS Debate

by Randy J. Stine

When should the Emergency Alert System be used? Experts are debating that question because the EAS was not activated nationally or regionally in New York or Washington during the terrorist attacks on the nation.

Changes are being considered in the way EAS can be activated should a similar event occur.

Richard Rudman, chairman of the EAS National Advisory Committee and the Los Angeles County local emergency committee, said that, since the incident, the EAS National Advisory Committee has recommended to the FCC that changes be made in EAS, which "could save lives if a similar terrorist attack were attempted."

He declined to identify those recommendations.

The question of whether an EAS civil warning should have been triggered stirred strong debate among online listserv users and others following the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon building.


Rudman said the job of EAS is to alert the public to danger before an actual event occurs, not after the fact.

"Some events really do serve as their own alerts and warnings. With the immediate live media coverage, the need for an EAS warning was lessened," Rudman said.

Several broadcast engineers said that issuing an EAS warning after the first plane struck the World Trade Center’s north tower might have caused more harm than good.

"I think people would have thought it was a little too late for that. At that point it could have stirred up even more panic. EAS It shouldn’t be used as a means to mobilize people after the fact," one said.

Others speculated that there was enough time between the two plane crashes in New York that an EAS alert might have saved additional lives.

"Activate it after the fact? Why not? There would have been nothing wrong with the public taking cover if more hardware was on the way," one person wrote online.

The Emergency Alert System was developed in 1994 as a tool for the president of the United States and others to warn the public about emergency situations. President George W. Bush chose to go directly to the media and avoid issuing an Emergency Alert Notification on the day of the destruction. As a result, EAS played no role in alerting the public of the emergency.

"Primary Entry Point stations were prepared and ready if the president had wanted to use them and issue an EAN. PEP is really is a last-ditch effort to get a message out if the president cannot get to the media. Clearly in this case there were other means to carry the message," said Rudman.

Tim Putprush, PEP system program manager for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the 34 PEP system stations nationwide were on a "high order of readiness." He described PEP as a national level EAS system.

Mark Manuelian, president of the Primary Entry Point Advisory Committee, said FEMA officials ordered PEP stations to be on standby in case the president wished to enact an EAN.

"The PEP notification system was not used since normal channels of communication remained open for the president to reach the public," Manuelian said.

Test suspension

As a result of the catastrophe, the FCC moved to allow broadcasters to suspend routine weekly and monthly EAS tests until Oct. 2. The announcement did not prohibit broadcast stations from continued compliance.

The FCC took the action after consulting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service. FCC and FEMA officials said they wanted to avoid potential public confusion and fear.

"Our initial concern was to make sure the PEP stations suspended tests. A secondary concern was with stations carrying live coverage from the scene having to break in with the EAS tones for a test. We didn’t walk folks hearing that and becoming overly concerned for their safety," Putprush said.


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