TR Daily FCC Report Calls National WEA Test Generally Successful
Monday, April 8, 2019

FCC Report Calls National WEA Test Generally Successful

The first nationwide end-to-end test of wireless emergency alerts (WEAs) last October was generally successful, although there are areas for improvement, the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau said in a report released today.

Last October’s test dealt with both WEAs and the Emergency Alert System, which had undergone three previous nationwide tests.

“The nationwide test demonstrated that WEA is an effective alerting tool to rapidly disseminate emergency information to the public,” today’s report said. “Based on survey data shared with the Commission, most people reported successful receipt of the WEA test message, with several news reports noting the success of the nationwide test to reach the public. The test also highlighted areas where WEA delivery can be improved, such as ensuring more consistent delivery, reducing duplicate messages, and resolving issues concerning alert message audio tone and vibration cadence. With respect to EAS, the nationwide test also demonstrated that IPAWS [Integrated Public Alert and Warning System] continues to deliver high-quality, effective, and accessible EAS alerts, and that EAS Participants’ results are comparable to 2017 performance levels, with continued improvement in several areas.”

“With respect to EAS, the nationwide test also demonstrated that IPAWS continues to deliver high-quality, effective, and accessible EAS alerts, and that EAS Participants’ results are comparable to 2017 performance levels, with continued improvement in several areas,” the report said. For example, it noted (1) “[a] majority (58.7%) received the test alert first via IPAWS, as compared to 41.9% in 2017;” (2) “[a] similar rate of both successfully receiving and retransmitting the test alert (95.7% receipt, as compared to 95.8% in 2017; 92.1% retransmission, as compared to 91.9% in 2017);” (3) “[a]n increase in receiving and retransmitting the test alert in both English and Spanish (rates up from 2017 by 388% for receiving the alert and by 350% for retransmitting the alert);” (4) “[a] decline in audio issues reported as an explanation for complications in receipt and retransmission (down to 68 explanations, from 1056 explanations provided in 2017);” and (5) “[s]lightly higher rates of configuring their equipment to monitor IPAWS (96.8%, as compared to 96.7% in 2017).”

The report summarized various survey data and other information on how the WEA test went.

For example, it said that the New York City Emergency Management Department administered a survey and “reported that of 2,351 respondents, 81.4% reported receiving the WEA test message. Of those that reported receiving the message, 21 83% of respondents reported that they received the message within ten minutes. 17.3% reported that they did not receive a WEA message, citing a number of explanations such as spotty wireless service, being on the subway, or turning the phone off or set to airplane mode or ‘Do Not Disturb’; however, the vast majority (77%) cited no known reason for not receiving the message. For those respondents who did not receive a WEA message for no known reason, 29% listed AT&T as their wireless provider, 24% listed T-Mobile, 22% listed Verizon, 7% listed Sprint, 10% listed ‘Other,’ and 8% provided no response.”

“The alert software vendor Everbridge conducted a detailed survey following the nationwide WEA test and received responses from over 3,500 people across all 50 states. 26 83% of respondents said they received the WEA alert on their smartphone, while 15% reported that they did not receive an alert through either WEA or EAS,” the report said. “Of all survey respondents, 48% reported that their wireless provider is Verizon, followed by AT&T (25%), T-Mobile (11%), and Sprint (8%). Respondents reporting Sprint as their provider also reported the highest percentage of all wireless providers in receiving the alert, at 88%.”

“The Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management conducted an unscientific poll which received over 5,000 responses. Of those respondents, 52.7% reported that they received the alert. Respondents’ locations show higher concentrations in Alaska’s urban areas, whereas fewer respondents are scattered across Alaska’s interior,” the report said.

“The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) conducted a survey among the deaf and hard of hearing community on October 9, 2018, following the nationwide WEA test, and received 199 responses. The survey results indicate that 70.4% of respondents received the WEA test message,” according to the report. “Of the respondents that indicated they did not receive the WEA alert, 42% reported AT&T as their wireless provider, 19% reported Verizon, 17% reported Sprint, 12% reported T-Mobile, and the remaining 10% reported ‘Other’. According to NAD, those ‘140 respondents who reported receiving the WEA alert did not report any accessibility issues.’”

The report added that the bureau “received feedback from the public through the Public Safety Support Center, which, through the week following the test, received a total of 316 responses. Of those responses, approximately 61% reported no problems in receiving the WEA test message. The remaining 39% either did not receive a WEA or received one that had issues including receipt of multiple messages or problems with the tone or vibration cadence. The Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) also received 36 complaints about the nationwide WEA test. Consumers either submitted a complaint online or called CGB’s call center and an agent submitted a complaint on behalf of a consumer. Fourteen complaints offered relevant information regarding the success of the test, two complaints involved EAS issues not related to the national test, and the remainder offered non-substantive political comments. Of those relevant filings, 10 reported some WEA issues, the vast majority noting they did not receive the alert. PSHSB also received additional feedback through incidental emails and reports from FCC staff monitoring the test.”

“PSHSB has assessed data and informal feedback from a variety of sources to identify complications or issues that the public may have encountered during the WEA portion of the nationwide test. Overall, the most significant issues identified include inconsistent delivery, duplicate alert messages, audio and vibration cadence issues, and accessibility issues,” the report said.

“News reports indicate that in certain portions of the country, Participating CMS Providers did not successfully deliver the WEA test message as a result of service outages. Specifically, some news reports indicated that shortly after the nationwide WEA test, AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile experienced a widespread outage in parts of Washington, Alaska, California, and Oregon,” the report said. “Other news reports indicated that WEA receipt was uneven, with some individuals receiving the alert while others in the same region did not. Some reports identify trends, such as delivery problems occurring in newer devices that had not undergone testing prior to the nationwide test to troubleshoot potential issues, or service provided by a particular wireless provider, to explain why some people did not receive the WEA test message. However, most media coverage notes that failure to receive the test message was not unique to any particular device, location, or wireless provider.”

Regarding complaints about duplicate test alert messages, the report said, “One consumer reported through the Public Safety Support Center that they received the test message 100 times in 36 hours, with the message coming in waves of 4-5 alerts in a 20-30-minute span. Another tweeted about receiving the alert 28 times.”

The report recommended actions that should be taken to improve EAS alert delivery and participation in nationwide testing.

It said the bureau should (1) “[p]rovide guidance, such as through Public Notices and direct follow-up with EAS Participants, to improve the accuracy of reporting in ETRS [EAS test reporting system] and to address commonly reported complications, such as the importance of software updates and proper equipment configuration, and following State EAS Plan monitoring assignments”; (2) “[p]romote accessibility through continued outreach to EAS Participants, particularly those referenced in filings with the Public Safety Support Center and other Commission records, to ensure future coordination of alert crawl with closed captioning, and to ensure future EAS messages are provided with appropriate crawl speed for readability, high contrast text and background colors, and adequate audio quality”; and (3) “[r]each out to Low Power broadcasters through a variety of means, including directed mailings and a webinar, to improve their participation in the nationwide EAS test.”

To address WEA test shortcomings, the report said that (1) the FCC should “consider the WEA test performance survey results in its assessment of next steps” on whether it should adopt standards or benchmarks for WEA performance and delivery”; (2) the FCC should “continue to develop tools for alert originators to use WEA more effectively, such as the development of a WEA database that provides information on the availability of WEA within their jurisdictions”; (3) there should be work “exploring potential opportunities with state and local alert originators to determine alternative means for gathering and assessing data regarding WEA delivery”; (4) the bureau will coordinate “with wireless carriers serving Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to encourage and facilitate their election to participate in WEA”; and (5) the bureau will “[c]onduct outreach to wireless providers to ensure the presence and delivery of the required WEA audio tone and vibration cadence to ensure that such alerts are accessible to individuals with disabilities.”- Paul Kirby, [email protected]

MainStory: FCC PublicSafety

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