Wednesday, November 25, 2015         


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Emergency broadcast test to air nationally Wednesday

By Erika Engle


Smack in the middle of APEC week, all broadcast radio and television, cable and satellite companies and Hawaiian Telcom's Internet protocol TV service are going to carry a long-planned, nationwide Emergency Alert System test.

It will occur at 9 a.m. Wednesday when Honolulu is full of more than the usual number of visiting foreign-language speakers — many of very high-rank — as well as all the foreign-language speakers who live here.

"We're trying to do as much as we can, (including) calling hotels" to alert them to notify their guests, "and notifying customers," said Norman Santos, vice president of operations for Oceanic Time Warner Cable.

Designed to give the U.S. president the ability to address the entire nation when it was established as the Emergency Broadcast System in 1963, that capacity has never been tested. The test is being coordinated by an alphabet soup of government agencies including the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Local broadcasters have aired public service announcements to alert listeners and viewers to the impending test, some of them in foreign languages and some of them in cooperation with Hawaii State Civil Defense. The agency has a memorandum of understanding with foreign-language stations including KNDI-AM 1270, KZOO-AM 1210 and KREA-AM 1540 developed after an earlier disaster in which communication breakdowns occurred.

KNDI has aired the PSA in Tagalog because the national test will air during Fil­i­pino-language programming on the station, said President and General Manager Leona Jona.

Japanese-language KZOO has aired the PSA in English and Japanese, said Vice President Robyn Furuya.

The Hawaii Association of Broadcasters has disseminated a torrent of pertinent information from the National Association of Broadcasters to member stations, said HAB President Susii Hearst.

"It's a national test, and every station is going to be airing this," she said, so stations also are airing the PSAs "just so the people know it is not an emergency, it is a test of the emergency system." Hearst is also general sales manager at KHON-TV.

Getting the word out to the dignitaries is a real challenge, she said, but she was hopeful that APEC coordinators would alert them.

All the stations' websites should have relevant information, she said.

The test will last from 30 seconds to one minute but originally was planned to be as long as three minutes.

While the audio portion would state the familiar "this is a test," phrase, "there was going to be a problem" with systems that are unable to display a crawl of text bearing the reassuring words, said Lauren Kravetz, acting media liaison for the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.

The lengthy duration was intended in part to ensure that media outlets' equipment would not time-out after two minutes and to ensure the ability to collect data, she said.

Concerns that such a long test could raise a nationwide panic were raised to government officials by trade organizations including the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. The concerns were wisely heeded, and Thursday, FEMA announced a plan for a shorter test that would still be long enough for the collection of needed data.


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Reach Erika Engle at 529-4303, or on Twitter as @erikaengle.

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