AM Radio is Essential in an Emergency

AM Radio plays an essential role in the Emergency Alert System.

What is the Emergency Alert System (EAS)?

The EAS is a national public warning system designed to allow the President of the United States to address the American people within 10 minutes during a national emergency. The EAS is also used by state and local authorities to deliver important emergency information, such as weather and AMBER alerts, to affected communities.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in partnership with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is responsible for implementing, maintaining and operating the EAS at the federal level.

What is AM radio’s role in the EAS?

FEMA has designated 71 radio stations as Primary Entry Points (PEPs) across the country, 85% of which are AM stations. These PEP signals reach 90% of the U.S. population. PEP stations have a direct connection to FEMA and the National Weather Service (NWS), ensuring a reliable and authoritative source of information for the public in times of emergency.

Two Ohio AM stations serve as PEP stations – WLW in Cincinnati and WTAM in Cleveland. FEMA has provided PEP stations with resources, including backup generators and transmitters, shelters with air filtration systems and a supply of food and water to ensure the stations can continue to broadcast for up to 60 days in case of a natural or man-made disaster.

What happens when an emergency alert is distributed?

When a PEP station receives an emergency alert, it broadcasts the message to other primary radio
stations, which in turn relay the message to all other radio and television stations. This “daisy chain”
mechanism allows the emergency alert to reach a wide audience, covering both urban and rural areas, in a short amount of time.

The EAS is also used at the state and local level for weather emergencies, AMBER alerts and other
situations that require citizens to take immediate action.

Why is AM radio necessary when most people have cell phones or other electronic devices?

  • AM radio stations have a long reach, covering a much larger geographical area than a cell phone tower, and can be accessed by anyone with a simple radio device. This ensures that vital information is accessible to everyone, including those in rural or remote areas.
  • AM radio stations continue to function during power outages, natural disasters and other emergencies, providing critical updates and information to the public. Wireless Emergency Alerts may not be as reliable in these situations, as cell towers can be damaged or overwhelmed by high call volume.
  • Whereas wireless alerts can tell you what is happening and where, AM radio can share many more crucial details and actionable information, such as how to stay safe, when the storm will pass or where help is located. Wireless alerts often include “check local media” directing people to their local AM station for lifesaving information.
  • AM’s role in the aftermath of a disaster is equally important, helping those impacted by a disaster receive updates and access necessary services.