FCC Again Extends Deadline for Audible Emergency Alerting Rule

by: David Titmus

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) again has extended the compliance deadline for a long-discussed rule that would require broadcasters to present aurally via secondary audio all emergency information shown visually during programming outside of regularly scheduled newscasts and breaking news cut-ins.

The “Audible Crawl Rule,” which went into effect in May of 2015, requires that local emergency information (such as alerts for tornadoes, hurricanes, and heavy snows as well as school closings, road closures, and local shelter updates) visually broadcast during non-newscast programming also be made aurally accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired through the use of a secondary audio stream.

The rule applies to both visual emergency information content that is textual (on-screen crawls) and information that is non-textual (radar maps or other graphic displays). If visual, non-textual emergency information is shown during non-newscast programming, the aural description of this information must accurately and effectively convey the critical details regarding the emergency.

Jimmy Fallon with emergency text atop the screenLate last month, however, the FCC OK’d a joint petition from the American Council of the Blind (ACB), the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) for a five-year extension, pushing the compliance deadline to May 2023.

The joint petition argued that, despite best efforts to develop an automated approach to aurally describing visual, non-textual emergency information, the industry has been unable to find a workable solution, and that enforcing the rule “will force local news teams to remove maps and other graphics from news alerts, rather than trying to implement complex workarounds to manually describe graphics.”

The extension, the petitioners say, will allow time for the broadcast industry to develop a technical solution for compliance.

This isn’t the first time the FCC has granted a waiver on this topic. NAB asked the FCC for a waiver in 2015 and, more than a year later, came back with another request – this one a joint request by the ACB, AFB, and NAB – to further extend the waiver for an additional 18 months.

“Although we continue to believe that an automated solution is preferable to a manual approach that requires station personnel to describe every graphic, compliance with the Audible Crawl Rule is not predicated on the advent of such technology,” the FCC said in granting the most recent extension. “We strongly encourage broadcasters to ensure that the critical details of graphically displayed emergency information are provided through non-automated means whenever possible during the pendency of this waiver.”

The FCC also is requiring NAB to submit a status report at the midpoint of the five-year waiver period (November 2020) that details the progress that broadcasters have made in finding accessible solutions as well as efforts to engage and consult members of the disability community to educate broadcasters on best practices.

The FCC already has rules in place for conveying emergency information to members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, requiring that emergency details in the audio portion of a broadcast also be presented visually, either via captions, screen crawls, or scrolling text that do not block any emergency information provided through other visual means.