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
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 Centers
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 shouldnt 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.
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 didnt walk folks hearing that
and becoming overly concerned for their safety," Putprush