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The ATSC 3.0 Emergency Alert: A Boon for Communities and Local TV Stations

January 4th, 2019   ||    by Susan Kuchinskas

It happens after so many disasters: questions about the performance of emergency alert systems. Victims often complain that alerts came too late or not at all. In California’s catastrophic Camp Fire, the Cal OES State and Fire rescue chief told WNCT, “We need a communications system, not just alert and warning, that is resilient and reliable for not only the public but for us in public service.”

The Advanced Warning and Response Network (AWARN), using ATSC 3.0 emergency alert functionality, is slated to be that system. According to the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), this emergency alert functionality includes:

  • Audience targeting for the public, first responders, and other organizations
  • Location targeting to geocodes, polygons, or circles
  • Multimedia capabilities to display graphics, photos, maps, video, and other assets
  • Alert updates and cancellations
  • Alert priority settings
  • The ability to wake up devices to receive an emergency alert
  • Personalized, multilingual support

A Clear Use Case

An emergency alert is a clear-cut use case for ATSC 3.0, according to TV Technology. It reports that the AWARN Alliance, composed of commercial and public broadcasters, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Consumer Technology Association, LG Electronics, and global technology companies, is working with technical partners to help guide development of the platform.

While the use case for the emergency alert is clear, the nitty gritty of how it should work is far from clear, and there are still some questions to be addressed.

For example, what sort of agreements between the alerting authorities and TV stations are necessary to allow the most critical warnings to be automatically passed through? And what about people watching streaming content on connected TVs? Would smart TVs or home gateways be able to interrupt the stream and transmit the alert?

Testing a Business Model

John Lawson, executive director of the AWARN Alliance, states on the AWARN blog that the AWARN emergency alert system will also let TV stations test commercial applications for ATSC 3.0. The same capabilities used for alerting can also be used for advertising and other beneficial endeavors.

For example, AWARN has developed a demonstration AMBER Alert that includes geotargeted, rich-media content including pictures of the missing child and alleged abductor, images of the getaway car and license plate, and maps showing the last seen location and direction of the car. Viewers can choose to access the content, and local stations can add their own news clips.

Its geotargeting capability will be a boon to stations and advertisers, allowing them to reach different viewers with localized messages.

The interactivity in an ATSC 3.0 emergency alert allows people to access the level of information they need: too much information may confuse someone, while too little may delay an appropriate response as the person tries to find more information. This same interactivity applied to advertising will allow viewers to engage with advertisements in whatever way is most appealing.

Early Examples

While ATSC 3.0 and the emergency alerts are in the early stages of rolling out, there are some examples of the use of some of this functionality for an emergency alert from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The Las Vegas PBS broadcasts geotargeted alerts for the Department of Homeland Security’s Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN) system via cellular phone providers.

Houston Public Media station KUHT delivers encrypted IP data to first responders, for example, sending a helicopter aerial feed to police while continuing its broadcast service.

As the national rollout continues, we’ll have a safer nation.

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