"This is a test of the Emergency Alert System – this is only a test"
The Emergency Alert System (EAS), is a national system in the U.S. put into place in 1997, superseding the Emergency Broadcast System and administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The EAS covers both radio and television (including low-power stations), and cable television companies. In November 2005, the FCC proposed amending EAS rules to cover Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) services and digital cable services which are not specifically addressed in the Commission's EAS rules.
EAS messages are handled by specialized equipment called EAS encoder-decoders, or endecs. The decoder component receives and interprets EAS messages from at least two state-assigned stations, and the encoder component transmits relayed messages. Low-power stations are only required to have the decoder components, but all other stations must have both decoder and encoder components.
EAS is designed to be useful for the entire public, not just those with Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME)-capable equipment. However, several consumer-level radios do exist, especially weather radio receivers, which are available to the public through both mail-order and retailers like Radio Shack, Circuit City, and several others. Other specialty receivers for FM Radio are available only through mail-order, or in some places from federal, state, or local governments, especially where there is a potential hazard nearby such as a nuclear plant or chemical factory. These radios come pre-tuned to a station in each area that has agreed to provide this service to local emergency management officials and agencies, often with a direct link back to the plant's safety system or control room for instant activation should an evacuation or other emergency arise.
The ability to narrow messages down so that only the actual area in danger is alerted is extremely helpful in preventing false warnings, which was previously a major tune-out factor. Instead of sounding for all warnings within a station's area, SAME-decoder radios now sound only for the counties they are programmed for. When the alarm sounds, anyone with the radio knows that the danger is nearby and protective action should be taken. For this reason, the goal of the National Weather Service is that each home should have both a smoke detector and a SAME weatheradio.
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