New rules adopted by the FCC require that when television stations in the U.S. display emergency information visually during non-news programming, they must provide the same information aurally on a secondary audio stream. The new rules do not change the requirement that emergency information provided visually during newscasts be conveyed aurally on primary audio.

The new rules apply only to programming shown on television and not to online video.  And these requirements do not apply to emergency alerts delivered via EAS, but if a station uses information provided via EAS to generate its own crawl, that crawl is subject to the audio conveyance requirement.  The entity that creates the visual emergency information content is the party responsible for providing an aural representation of the information on the secondary audio.  Specifically, that entity must:

  • play a tonal alert at the same time in the main program audio, customarily three high-pitched tones, when emergency information is provided visually during non-news programming.
  • repeat the emergency information provided aurally on the secondary audio stream at least twice in a row.
  • interrupt and supersede any other secondary audio programming for the emergency information, including any otherwise-required video description.
  • have two audio streams, but the secondary audio stream is not required to be dedicated to emergency-only audio.
  • communicate the aural information accurately and effectively such that visually impaired customers receive the critical details about a current emergency and how to respond to the emergency, including providing descriptions of graphic displays such as maps. Verbatim aural translation of textual emergency information is not required.

Stations may use any method to provide an aural rendition of textual emergency information, including text-to-speech (TTS). The compliance deadline for the new requirement is two years from the date the rules are published in the Federal Register. The FCC declined to adopt a technical capability exception to the rule, but stations may seek a waiver for good cause.