FCC proposes new rules to make emergency alerts more accessible for people hard of hearing

The FCC wants to update its emergency alert system | Illustrator by Alex Castro / The Verge

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing new rules for emergency alerts to make them more accessible to people who are deaf and hard of hearing. The agency said in a news release that the proposal is part of a larger examination of measures to “enhance the system’s overall functionality and accessibility.”

The legacy versions of emergency alerts broadcast on over-the-air television with a test pattern screen and a loud alert noise followed by spoken instructions. The FCC says it wants broadcasters, cable systems, and other participants in the emergency alerts system (EAS) to use the internet-based Common Alerting Protocol version of the alerts when possible instead. And for the TV alerts, the FCC wants to see improvements to “the clarity and descriptiveness” of visuals that appear on TVs during EAS tests, for people who can’t hear the tests’ audio messages.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement that it’s difficult to know what kind of warning is adequate when “freak weather” occurs, like the deadly tornadoes that moved through the Midwest last week. “But we do know that we are seeing these kinds of storms with greater frequency,” Rosenworcel said. “And I think we have a responsibility to improve the warning systems we have, to get people the news they need in an emergency.”

Rosenworcel and the other FCC commissioners all support the proposed changes to EAS warnings. In June, the commission combined Presidential Alerts and alerts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) into one National Alerts category.

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