Pamela Engel, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH (Ohio)
State emergency officials are trying to determine why an Amber Alert that went out Sunday night on cable TV did not include audio.
Words on the screen announced that “civil authorities” had issued a “child abduction emergency” for all of Ohio. An audio message that included a description of the victim and suspect was broadcast over WNCI radio (97.9 FM) in Columbus but was not part of the alert for all cable viewers.
The missing child, an 8-month-old from Cuyahoga County, was found shortly after the alert was issued.
“We sent the (Emergency Alert System) message with audio,” said Lt. Ann Ralston, a spokeswoman for the State Highway Patrol. “Why it did not come across appropriately, we might need to do more research into that.”
The Emergency Management Agency in Ohio is also aware of the problem and is trying to determine what caused the lack of information, said Tamara McBride, an agency spokeswoman.
The Federal Communications Commission has heard about similar problems in other states, said Tom Beers, a policy division chief at the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. “But under the existing technology, there are limits on what can be done to ensure equivalency between the (text on the television screen) and the audio.”
The equipment most cable providers use has a character limit for the text that appears on the screen, and detailed information about alerts does not fit within the character limit.
New equipment is available that is designed to accommodate more information in the text, but states have to decide whether to cover the expense of the equipment, Beers said.
“We’re hoping that the states take this opportunity to take full advantage of the new technology.”