A Short History of the California Emergency Alert System (EAS)

December 7, 2014


SBE AmberLogo2011

The EAS program is an outgrowth of the Emergency Broadcast Program, which had its roots in the CivAlert system in the State of Hawaii. The Civ-Alert system was begun in Hawaii in l960 following a disastrous tsunami in which there was considerable loss of life. In l963 the FCC investigated the CivAlert system, liked it and scraped the then-in-use CONELRAD system. The replacement was the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS), crafted after Hawaii’s Civ-Alert System.

A detailed California Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) Plan was published by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1967. It reflected a FCC-mandated “FM Relay System” that was based on two-way VHF-FM radio and a leased telephone line to station KCTC which was to be relayed to other stations. Events, however, made it an unusable system. Consequently, the Federal government made a grant to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (State OES) to develop a new State Relay Network (SRN). This is essentially the secondary network that is in use today. It is a system based on a group of mountain-top VHF and UHF repeaters in California, Nevada and Oregon. A new EBS Plan for the state was written to reflect the use of this system. That EBS system remained in effect until l997.

In 2000 California’s EDIS system became a major component in distributing EAS. This Plan is dedicated to Stanly Easton Harter, a faithful stalwart for the Emergency Alert System and the father of Hawaii’s Civ-Alert System. Stan was California’s first EBS/EAS Coordinator, serving from 1985 to his untimely death in 1998. His influence on Emergency Public Information (EPI) is without parallel. In l994 the FCC mandated the change from the EBS to the EAS. This required new equipment to be installed by governments and the broadcast and cable industries. The effective date for the EAS system changeover from the EBS was January 1, l997, which coincided with a period of severe winter storms in California. Accordingly, the EAS system was literally born in the middle of a torrent of events that quickly tested it and all its participants. In hindsight, it performed far better than was expected given the birth of the system during the storms. Butte County California was the first to use the new EAS in the Nation.

The EAS system has national purpose, as well as a state and local purpose. A national alert flows from the Primary Entry Points to the National Primary Stations, thence to the LP1 stations by the manner in which the LP1’s monitor their information sources. Similarly, the monitoring process of the LP1 stations – which typically includes the SRN – provides the distribution of the state and local warnings in accord with the Local Area and State EAS plans. When a local government needs to warn its citizens it is the local EAS system that provides that capability. To assist Local Areas a model plan structure was designed around a concept of “Operations Orders” to facilitate changes without the need to restructure and rewrite the entire plan. As a way of illustration and example, the State EAS Plan follows the structure of that model plan.

Minor changes to Local EAS plans need LECC action with information copies to all stations, cable entities and governments including State OES. Major changes follow the same process but require FCC and SECC approval coordinated with the State OES EAS desk.

Comments are closed.