CHAT ROOM Advanced Emergency Alerting: A Key Aspect of ATSC 3.0

In the Chat Room this month, THE STANDARD sat down with John Lawson, Executive Director of the AWARN Alliance, the group that’s developing the Advanced Warning and Response Network for implementation of the Advanced Emergency Alerting capabilities of ATSC 3.0.

THE STANDARD:  How does advanced emergency alerting fit into the ATSC 3.0 standard?

LAWSON: As the most advanced television transmission technology in the world, ATSC 3.0 enables the most advanced emergency alerting system in the world. From the very beginning of 3.0 standards development, the ATSC had the foresight and public service commitment to include Advanced Emergency Alerting as one of the core use cases. We’re utilizing the capabilities that ATSC has created to develop AWARN, which, when deployed, will save many lives in the years ahead.

AWARN leverages many of the most powerful features of ATSC 3.0. These include device wake-up through the bootstrap, deep indoor and mobile reception through signal robustness, geo-targeting, personalization, accessibility, and interactivity on receiving devices (locally or through hybrid networks).

One of the pleasant surprises of creating our first prototype AWARN alerts – AMBER, tornado and hazmat alerts – is that we are also prototyping Next Gen TV business models. For example, geo-targeting an alert for only those people in harm’s way from a chemical leak basically leverages the same 3.0 capabilities that broadcasters and device makers will use for geo-targeted advertising.

THE STANDARD:  Why is advanced emergency alerting so important to the government, broadcasters and viewers?

LAWSON: AWARN solves a major public safety problem. America’s emergency alerting systems today are outdated, fragmented and fragile. The capabilities of the legacy EAS system basically haven’t changed since the Cold War. In the 2000s, the government pressured wireless carriers to launch the Wireless Emergency Alert system, but WEA messages are only 90 characters, their geo-targeting is poor, and reliability is an issue. In the recent fatal Gatlinburg wildfires, the authorities never even issued a wireless alert, except after most of the damage was done, and then only to ask people to stay off their mobile phones.

For these reasons, AWARN – leveraging the power of ATSC 3.0 and broadcasting’s one-to-many architecture – is generating excitement in public safety and government circles. Through TV stations, alerting originators can send geo-targeted, rich media alerts to an unlimited number of ATSC 3.0-enabled devices. They see this as a major upgrade to what they can do now. It’s telling that the public safety community is fighting attempts by the wireless carriers to roll back new FCC rules, which require that WEAs include URLs and live phone number links for citizen response. AWARN alerts can provide those capabilities and much much more without breaking a sweat.

It’s no accident that the AWARN Alliance is one of the four signatories (along with the NAB, APTS and CTA) to the Joint Petition requesting the FCC’s approval of the voluntary implementation of ATSC 3.0. What we’re doing has strong bi-partisan appeal. New FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has specifically cited advanced alerting as a prime reason the Commission should approve ATSC 3.0 transmission, and we’re getting a positive response from Capitol Hill as well.

THE STANDARD:  Tell us about the AWARN Alliance’s role in driving advanced alerting and the broader goals for ATSC 3.0.

LAWSON: An expanding list of commercial and public broadcasters, consumer electronics and allied technology companies, law firms, consultants and public safety organizations has come together in the AWARN Alliance. They are supporting our work financially and through hands-on, in-kind development. Our original supporters have renewed for 2017, and new members are joining each week.

Our work plan for 2017 calls for creating user groups among broadcasters, tech companies and public safety organizations to work out protocols and templates. Public safety will have their own learning curve for aggregating the rich-media content – like photos, surveillance video, storm tracks and evacuation maps – in the alerts they send to stations. We plan to issue an RFI to explore service and business models for the future of AWARN. And we’ll continue to explore synergies between AWARN prototyping and Next Gen TV business models like targeted advertising and interactivity.

A major focus of our work will continue to be supporting the industry’s regulatory agenda, especially through the coming proceedings at the FCC for the new rules around ATSC 3.0. The whole post-auction landscape will shift at the FCC, the White House and Congress, and AWARN represents a major asset as the industry makes its case on various issues.

Our basic message to broadcasters and other ATSC stakeholders is that AWARN will provide major dividends to both the public and our industry’s financial future. But we’ll only realize this potential if a broad range of companies get behind AWARN and join our Alliance. It’s about innovation and strategy. It’s also about doing the right thing.

Learn more about AWARN at www.awarn.org. To explore joining the AWARN Alliance, contact John Lawson at jlawson@awarn.org.