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Broadcasters Prepare for Next-Generation Mobile Emergency Alert System

LAS VEGAS, April 4, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- With momentum building for a new enhancement to the existing Emergency Alert System, the newly-standardized Mobile Emergency Alert System is being demonstrated to TV broadcasters next week at the annual NAB Show. On display in the NAB's Mobile TV Pavilion (booth N2638) are new applications, including geo-targeting of broadcast alerts and text-to-speech capabilities to help blind and low-vision consumers receive emergency alerts.

Mobile EAS (M-EAS) is a powerful new tool for emergency alerting capability that is moving from the laboratory to the marketplace, building on the successful conclusion of a nationwide development program spearheaded by PBS, LG Electronics, Harris Broadcast and NAB Labs. M-EAS is designed to leverage mobile digital TV broadcasting to deliver reliable, rich media alerts anywhere, anytime.

October's "Superstorm Sandy" in the Northeast demonstrated both the fragile limits of cell phone networks during times of emergency and the life-saving ability of TV broadcasting.  By harnessing the power of terrestrial broadcasting, and specifically mobile digital TV, the field-tested and proven new Mobile Emergency Alert System promises to significantly enhance the nation's emergency preparedness for the public and first responders alike.

"Momentum is clearly building for M-EAS," said John Lawson, president of Convergence Services and M-EAS senior advisor.  "From hurricanes, windstorms and wildfires to tornadoes and earthquakes, natural and man-made disasters reveal time and again the need for a reliable, geo-targeted, information-rich alerting system for a mobile America."

Just in the last month, an open industry standard for Mobile EAS was adopted by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), M-EAS was referenced in an official advisory report to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the first Mobile EAS broadcast station reached agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to begin transmitting FEMA alerts using Mobile EAS.

The Mobile Emergency Alert System is ideal for next-generation alerting because it bypasses bandwidth bottlenecks that overload current systems and has the ability to reach millions of devices - and people - simultaneously.  Mobile EAS transmits rich-media alert messages with video, photos, graphics, maps and evacuation routes, radar images, text and audio (including text-to-speech.)  Mobile EAS can also geographically target alerts to devices and citizens who need them.

Among the hallmarks of Mobile EAS is the system's ability to provide a wide variety of alerts - not just text messages - and to target alerts based on location.

"In addition to providing the familiar banner alerts to mobile devices, Mobile EAS provides additional rich-media information such as video, audio, evacuation routes, images, weather-radar, and other just-in-time information needed by citizens in times of emergencies.

Features such as text-to-speech and vibrate-upon-alert, which, along with all of the rich media content available to users, mean that M-EAS alerts will reach many more Americans, including millions of people with disabilities," said Wayne Luplow, vice president at Zenith, the U.S. R&D laboratory for LG Electronics, one of the developers of M-EAS technology.  Receiving devices may even be programmed to "wake-up" when M-EAS signals are transmitted, he added.

By using geographic polygons embedded in post 9/11 alerts, combined with GPS capability in mobile devices, M-EAS alerts can be displayed on consumer devices intended to receive the alerts - and only on those devices. This geo-targeting avoids clutter on mobile devices, as well as confusion among mobile users.

M-EAS utilizes terrestrial broadcasting, rather than cellular network connectivity. Sam Matheny, vice president, policy & innovation, Capitol Broadcasting Company, Inc., said this means high reliability and mass, instantaneous distribution even when cellular fails.

"Broadcast stations, with back-up generators and fuel reserves, historically have stayed on the air even when electricity to whole regions is cut and people must depend upon battery-powered communications," he said.

Major milestones in the deployment of the Mobile Emergency Alert System are being highlighted for broadcasters at the NAB Show:

-- Mobile EAS is defined by an open, non-proprietary emission standard that was approved by the ATSC on March 11. The M-EAS standard is based on the existing open standard for Mobile DTV, designated as ATSC A/153. The A/153 standard, in turn, uses Internet Protocol technology, allowing M-EAS applications to be flexible and extensible.

-- M-EAS is designed for ready adoption into the U.S. Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) and utilizes the international Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), which specifies how messages are structured. CAP also includes the polygonal coordinates that enable geo-targeting.

-- M-EAS gains official recognition with the report of an advisory committee to the FCC. The Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council III made its final report to the FCC on March 14, and included a recommendation encouraging the deployment of M-EAS in mobile phones.

-- Capitol Broadcasting's WRAL/Raleigh signs FEMA's Memorandum of Agreement under which WRAL will access live alerts, authenticated and distributed by FEMA, and retransmit them using M-EAS. WRAL, which has led the way in digital broadcasting and Mobile DTV, is again leading the way with M-EAS implementation.

-- With Jay Adrick of Harris Broadcast chairing, ATSC launches the M-EAS Implementation Team (ITeam) to facilitate industry discussions of issues related to commercial implementation of the M-EAS standard.

-- Working with the Mobile500 Alliance, Expway, and the ATSC ITeam, Mobile DTV device maker Elgato readies deployment of its commercially-available EyeTV adapter device, which can receive and render M-EAS alerts on iPhones and iPads.

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