6. Issue 2: Standardization of Emergency Notification
Systems and Protocols

6.1. FAR Analysis

AB 2393 requires the Commission to open an investigation to determine whether standardized notification systems and protocols should be utilized to facilitate notification of affected members of the public of local emergencies.

Sections 2871 to 2876 define the parameters for the connection and use of Automatic Dialing Announcing Devices (ADADs). They were written to regulate mass dialing for non-emergency uses, and exempt various entities, including those using it for emergency notification. Since they were written, telecommunications technology has evolved such that the requirements in those sections may be out of date.17

AB 2393 requires the Commission to determine whether standardized notification systems and protocols should be used by entities that are authorized to use ADADs to facilitate notification of affected members of the public in the event of local emergencies. The current set of notification systems work and save lives. However, there may be issues regarding optimization, performance, and operations of notification systems.

An important consideration is whether activation of emergency communications systems during an emergency causes network congestion sufficient to hinder such communications. While such congestion is possible, the FAR found no specific evidence that random activation of notification systems causes sufficient congestion to hinder emergency communications. However, other activities (such as mass dialing of 9-1-1 in a large scale emergency) may also create congestion. The FAR finds that, through an education process, those who use the notification systems to broadcast alerts (alert initiators) could be made aware that they may need to throttle back their notification alert system in order to lessen any adverse impacts on service providers.

The FAR finds that notification system vendors, in general, are not familiar with the § 2875 requirement to notify the telephone service provider in writing of the intended use of ADAD equipment.18 In addition, service providers seem to lack clearly defined policies for ADAD users (i.e., which individual or organization to call within their company and what information should be exchanged with respect to § 2875). The FAR recommends that California encourage alert initiators to comply with §§ 2871-2876 and the service providers' guidelines.

Open communications between the service provider and alert initiator is essential. When a service provider does not expect a mass notification or the mass notification is not programmed in a way to avoid system congestion, the service provider may be forced to block calls to prevent congestion or a widespread telecommunications outage. If, instead of balancing the desire to send mass notifications with the service provider's need to manage traffic to avoid system overload (and thus defeat the purpose of sending emergency notifications), alert initiators ignore service provider warnings of blocked calls and system congestion they impose a greater burden on the network. This illustrates the need for further dialogue between service providers and alert initiators in order to reach mutual agreements on operating parameters for alert initiators.

New communications technologies enable local authorities to notify the public in an emergency by a phone call or text message delivered to wireline or wireless devices, including cell phones and text pagers. What is emerging is not, however, a unified system.

Without common communication protocols, manufacturers are developing emergency notification systems that require proprietary software. Each system remains targeted toward those living in a particular area with people unable to communicate with those who may be across county or municipal boundaries. For example, an escape route recommended by one county may lead people onto a road that is impassable in the next county.

Given the embryonic nature of standards and other federal initiatives, the lack of maturity of systems and operational experience of statewide systems, the FAR concludes that the current state of technology can not support a statewide rollout. However, there are activities at the federal level that should be considered.

6.2. Federal Activities

The WARN Act established the Commercial Mobile Service Alert Advisory Committee (CMSAAC) to develop recommendations on technical standards and protocols to facilitate commercial mobile radio service (CMRS) transmission of emergency alerts. It is intended to establish a framework by which CMRS providers may voluntarily transmit emergency alerts. It required the CMSAAC to develop and recommend standards and protocols related to the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to the FCC by October 12, 2007.19 The resulting CMSAAC report was submitted to the FCC on October 12, 2007. Subsequently, on April 9, 2008, the FCC in a First Report and Order (FCC 08-99 in PS Docket No. 07-287), adopted technical standards, protocols and procedures to enable CMRS providers to transmit emergency messages to customers. Implementation requires that a federal entity be designated to collect and transmit alerts to wireless carriers.

In a May 30, 2008 press release, the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that it would perform the unified aggregator/gateway role for the Commercial Mobile Alert System, mandated by the WARN Act.20

On May 31, 2007, in the Review of the Emergency Alert System, EB Docket No. 04-296, the FCC adopted a Second Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that addresses some of the Katrina Panel's recommendations.21 The order is intended to promote the development of digital technologies and delivery systems for emergency alerts. The order requires EAS participants to accept messages using the Common Alerting Protocol, which is to be the groundwork for next generation EAS systems. The order, while approved, has not yet been published. In a news release, the FCC stated that it will explore the technical and financial viability of expanding the EAS to other technologies such as wireless and the Internet. We find this federal development to be very positive.

6.3. FAR Options/Recommendations

The FAR offers the following options for consideration:

1. The FAR suggests that the national standards in the area of mass wireless notification should be allowed to fully unfold before considering specific standards or protocols for California.

2. While waiting for the national standards to develop, OES could consider hosting a workshop to draft an optional set of minimum and model criteria for notification systems. The intent would be to share the procurement and operational experience of those who have such systems, rather than to develop standards. At the individual discretion of the various institutions with notification systems, the optional criteria could be utilized in procuring and implementing notification systems. Such criteria should consider the needs of persons with disabilities.

3. California could consider promoting more communications between service providers, alert initiators and vendors. This could include encouraging service providers to work with alert initiators and vendors to (1) provide a single point of contact at each service provider to work with the alert initiators to educate them on the service provider's concerns and (2) develop a set of guidelines for system installation and operation to minimize any impacts on the service provider's network.

6.4. Discussion

The intent of Section 2872.5 was to determine whether standardized notification systems and protocols should be adopted. Emergency alerts can be generated at the local, state and federal levels. Depending on how large a geographic area needs to be alerted, there may be multiple alert systems using a variety of communications mediums (wireline and wireless telecommunications systems, radio, television, etc.). It is essential that these systems be able to interact in a manner that facilitates notification of the appropriate people as soon as possible with the necessary information. Therefore, there should be some form of standards to facilitate this interaction.

As demonstrated by AB 2393 and AB 2231, we acknowledge the leadership of the California Legislature in pursuing the development of improved emergency notification systems. However, the FCC has also taken significant positive actions relevant to such standards. Since compatibility with federally established standards and protocols is essential, California should not separately establish standardized systems and protocols at this time.22

Instead, we will continue to monitor, and where necessary, actively participate in the development of the federal requirements. When such requirements are established, California will be in a much better position to determine whether additional standards and protocols are needed. Towards this end, we expect CD to monitor the development and implementation of federal standards and keep us apprised of significant developments.

We further expect CD to continue the cooperation established with OES in this investigation with respect to enhancing emergency alerting in California.23 In that regard, we expect CD to continue to actively participate in the OES AB 2231 Alert and Warning Work Group effort to develop recommendations for the Legislature concerning policies, procedures and protocols that will lay the framework for an improved warning system for the public.24

We are encouraged by the facilitation CD staff is providing the DGS 9-1-1 Office and service providers to resolve billing and infrastructure concerns. We also expect staff will continue to work with OES, DGS, and first responders on issues raised in the above referenced San Diego Workshop and San Bernardino Roundtable regarding notification system technologies, contracting and interoperabilities.

17 Section 2872 provides that the connection of ADADs to telephone lines is subject to the jurisdiction, control and regulation of the Commission.

18 Section 2875 requires among other things that: no person shall connect any automatic dialing-announcing device to any telephone line without first making written application to the telephone corporation within whose service area telephone calls through the use of such device are proposed to be placed.

19 EAS is designed to provide the President of the United States with the ability to address the public in the event of a national emergency. Beginning in 1993, the President allowed state and local emergency information to be transmitted using EAS. Since then, EAS has been used to transmit local emergency messages using TV and radio broadcast stations, cable and wireless cable systems. In October 2005, the FCC expanded EAS to require participation by digital television broadcasters, digital broadcast radio, digital audio radio service and digital broadcast satellite. EAS is regulated by the FCC and administered by the Department of Homeland Security through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

20 Dept. of Homeland Security FEMA release Number HQ-08-090, released May 30, 2008, entitled, "FEMA to assume Aggregator/Gateway Role for Nationwide Cell Phone Alert System." http.//www.fema.gov/news/newsrelease.fema?id=43619

21 The Katrina Panel was established by the FCC in January 2006. It was tasked with reviewing the impact of Hurricane Katrina on telecommunications and media infrastructure, including public safety communications, reviewing the sufficiency of the recovery effort with respect to this infrastructure, and making recommendations to the FCC for improving disaster preparedness, network reliability and communications among first responders. Its report was submitted to the FCC on June 12, 2006.

22 Section 2875 already requires automatic dialing-announcing vendors to coordinate with telephone corporations.

23 Two California emergency alert workshops were convened in August 2007 to bring together government and industry subject matter experts to review current efforts and discuss California's emergency alert systems and capabilities, with specific focus on wireless systems. These workshops were part of a comprehensive effort by the Lieutenant Governor, OES and the Commission to examine policies, procedures and a framework for public-private partnerships with providers of mass communications systems to enhance public access to emergency alerts.

24 OES is the chief responding state agency for all California disasters. Over the course of the next year, members specified in AB 2231, subject matter experts, stakeholders and interested parties will meet to discuss how to enhance the alert, notification and warning system in California. The first meeting was held on March 27, 2008 at OES headquarters.

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