Access to Televised Emergency Information

Access to emergency information — information intended to protect life, health, safety, or property – is critical to every American. Examples of emergency information include:

Immediate weather situations: tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, tidal waves, earthquakes, icing conditions, heavy snows, widespread fires, warnings, and watches of impending changes in weather.
Community situations such as: discharge of toxic gases, widespread power failures, industrial explosions, civil disorders, school closings, and changes in school bus schedules resulting from such conditions.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has special rules requiring access to televised emergency information. The FCC rules require broadcasters and cable operators to make local emergency information accessible to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, and to persons who are blind or have visual disabilities. This rule means that emergency information must be provided both aurally and in a visual format.

There are no exemptions from complying with this rule.

For people who are deaf or hard of hearing, emergency information must be provided either using closed captioning or other methods of visual presentation, such as open captioning, crawls, or scrolls that appear on the screen. Visually accessible information is critically important so that viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing can be informed about and know how to respond to an emergency for themselves, as well as to assist in protecting the life, health, safety and property of family members, friends, neighbors, work colleagues, and others.

Video programming distributors that are not permitted to count captions created using the “electronic news room” technique are now required to close caption all breaking news and emergency alerts. In 2006, the FCC issued a Public Notice, “Obligations of Video Programming Distributors to Make Emergency Information Accessible to Persons with Hearing Disabilities Using Closed Captioning.”  In this Public Notice, the FCC provides some examples of the actions video programming distributors may take to help obtain closed captioning resources quickly. The FCC also noted that when a distributor is unable to caption emergency information quickly, the amount of missing captions may be relatively small and reasonable under the circumstances. However, to be reasonable, the distributor must make its best efforts to provide closed captioning as soon as possible. Even so, the FCC emphasized that, when closed captioning is not provided, all distributors must make emergency information accessible by some other visual presentation method, in a manner that ensures the same access to emergency information for persons with hearing disabilities as for any other viewer.

For more information about closed captioning requirements, see Captioning Live Programs.
For more information about access to televised emergency information, see the FCC’s Consumer Fact Sheet.