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Emergency Alert Improvements In Works For HD Radio Standard

New York — HD Radio developer iBiquity Digital will work with two communications-infrastructure providers to expand the capabilities of the nation’s Emergency Alerting System for digital AM and FM stations.

One planned enhancement would automatically turn on an HD Radio tuner and tune it to an Emergency Alert station when an emergency signal is broadcast. The group also plans to implement Emergency Alert text displays, said Howard Price, president of Sage Alerting Systems, one of the three companies involved in the effort. The features would be available for inclusion in home, car and portable HD Radio tuners, including tuners embedded in portable media players (PMPs).

Both features were part of the Radio Broadcast Data System (RBDS) standard developed in the 1980s to send low-bit-rate text over FM radio to receivers, but neither feature appeared in RBDS radios, nor were they implemented by FM stations, Price said. The HD Radio standard, in contrast, will deliver more emergency text information at a faster rate than 16-characters-per-second RBDS, he said, and it will deliver alerts over AM and FM stations, not just FM stations.

Today, automatic wake-up is already available in portable AM/FM Public Alert radios that incorporate tuners to receive weather and other emergency alerts from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Text displays are an option under the Consumer Electronics Association’s Public Alert certification standard.

Under the current Emergency Alert System, analog and digital AM and FM stations, TV stations and cable operators must be equipped to receive emergency messages from the president and automatically interrupt their regular broadcasts to transmit the president’s message, Sage’s Price said. The stations must also conduct weekly and monthly tests of the system. Transmissions of weather alerts, local or regional emergencies, and even Amber alerts are voluntary, Prince said.