FCC Settles Emergency Alert Tone Misuse Investigations with Four Entities
Friday, August 16, 2019 | Comments

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau settled investigations into the misuse of emergency alert tones by four organizations. The organizations included a TV broadcaster, cable TV networks and a radio broadcaster.

Combined, the companies agreed to pay more than $600,000 in civil penalties, and each committed to a strict compliance plan to ensure such actions do not occur again.

The use of actual or simulated Emergency Alert System (EAS) tones during non-emergencies and outside of proper testing or public service announcements is a serious public-safety concern. The FCC’s rules prohibit such broadcasting of EAS tones, including simulations of them, except during actual emergencies, authorized tests or authorized public service announcements. These rules aim to protect the integrity of the alert system by helping to avoid confusion when the tones are used, alert fatigue among listeners and false activation of the EAS by the operative data elements contained in the alert tones.

The announced settlements conclude the FCC’s investigations. The settlements were:
• On Oct. 3, 2018, ABC broadcast an episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” that used a simulated Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) tone three times during a comedic sketch. ABC transmitted the episode nationwide to 250 TV stations, including eight of its owned and operated stations, which in turn broadcast the episode in their markets. ABC admitted to the violation, agreed to pay a $395,000 civil penalty and committed to a compliance plan.
• In February, AMC Networks twice included EAS tones in an episode of the “The Walking Dead.” This was transmitted on eight separate instances across cable and satellite systems nationwide. AMC admitted to the violation, agreed to pay a $104,000 civil penalty and committed to a compliance plan.
• Discovery’s Animal Planet network broadcast an episode of “Lone Star Law” that included an actual WEA signal. The crew was filming the Texas Game Wardens following Hurricane Harvey and caught the tone of a real wireless alert received by phones during filming. Discovery transmitted the episode eight times to cable and satellite systems nationwide from January to March 2018. Discovery admitted to the violation, agreed to pay a $68,000 civil penalty and committed to a compliance plan.
• In the fall of 2017, Meruelo Radio Holdings’ KDAY and KDEY-FM included a simulation of an EAS attention signal in a promotion for its morning show. The promotion was broadcast 106 times on KDAY and 33 times on KEY-FM’s simulcast of KDAY. The company admitted to the violation, agreed to pay a $67,000 civil penalty and committed to a compliance plan.

The Enforcement Bureau released an enforcement advisory reminding the industry on the rules around EAS and WEA alerts.

“We remain concerned about the misuse of the EAS codes and EAS and WEA attention signals, or simulations thereof, to capture audience attention during advertisements; dramatic, entertainment and educational programs, and any other time that there is no genuine alert, authorized test or authorized PSA about the EAS or WEA that is accompanied by an appropriate disclaimer,” the bureau said. “The FCC may issue sanctions for such violations, including, but not limited to, monetary forfeitures.”

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