New Rules Regarding Emergency Broadcasts Messaging on the Way

crtc_logoIn late February (2014) the CRTC asked for public comment on proposed amendments to various regulations including possible provisions requiring the mandatory distribution of emergency alert messages. This was done via CRTC notice 2014-85. Originally, broadcasters were given until 31 March to file comments, but this was extended until 17 April, perhaps because of the importance of this matter.

The CRTC seemS to be of the view that this should all be in place for both Television and Radio by 31 December 2014 which, frankly, might be asking a little much, given the equipment has to be ordered, installed, tested and operational. This equipment is designed to broadcast emergency warnings (using a computer generated text to speech type voice) to listeners in case of a major disaster occurring within your broadcast area. It will also be used to broadcast Amber Alerts or major weather alerts and Pelmorex is the organisation that will actually distribute the messages when they are issued by the appropriate local authority.

If you had your license renewed over the past year or so, chances are you may have received a surprise intervention from the Office of the Fire Marshall in regards to the participation of each commercial radio station in the National Public Alerting System (NPAS).

The Ontario Association of Broadcasters (OAB) took quick action and held an information day on this matter. It was held at the swanky offices of Pelmorex on Thursday, March 27th.  The people from the Fire Marshall’s office were there as well as two different vendors who spoke about their equipment and in once case were able to show an example of an emergency message and how it would sound on the air. Most broadcasters came away with some very good information and a much better idea of how the NAAD system will work. While it may be a little complex to implement for radio, it looks like it could be a major nightmare for television operators.

The good news is that very few major alerts have been issued in the past few years. For example, in Ontario in the past six years there have been only two and they were both limited to a specific geographic areas in Ontario. One was a chemical spill near Coburg and the other was the closure of the 402 because of a major snow storm. While it looks like the process will be smooth once the Provincial Authority decides to issue a warning, the question remains how quickly the local authorities will act in contacting the Provincial authority. In the case in Coburg and another in Godderich when a Tornado went though the area, the local radio stations were well ahead of the authorities in warning their listeners of a potential issue. They key is to find out who the Community Emergency Management Coordinator is in your area and ensure you have a strong working relationship with that individual. They are the authority who are charged with contacting the Provincial Authorities in case of an emergency. 

Most broadcasters I have spoken to recognize the importance of a national emergency alert system and our own vital role in delivering alerts to Canadians. It has been demonstrated over many years that local radio newsrooms have provided exceptional levels of public service.  Indeed, due to our ability to provide local content and live interaction with listeners, local radio and television can provide, in many cases, a superior service to the National Alert Aggregation & Dissemination System (NAAD).

When it comes to radio, most broadcasters have staff in the newsroom or on the air for many hours of the day and can spring into action at a moment notice. They provide a great local service and should only need to use the use the Emergency Alert Messaging system during unattended hours. I think it will be important to encourage the CRTC to write the rules in such a way that an important live, local message not be interrupted by a networked NAAD message. Ideally, NAAD should only have to be implemented during unattended periods of operation.

 I hope broadcasters will take the time to write to the CRTC and voice their opinions on this matter on or before 17 April when the public comment process closes. If you want to know more about the equipment you may need, please call our office and we’ll be happy to put you in touch with the equipment distributers.