Emergencia: FCC might require Spanish version of broadcast weather alerts

The Obama administration is considering whether to require that television broadcasts of emergency announcements be provided in different languages.

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday said it is reconsidering a rule that would provide Spanish broadcasts of emergency alerts and other important announcements.

The rule was originally recommended in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Back then, groups including the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) petitioned the FCC to require broadcasters to notify Spanish listeners in the event of an emergency.

"MMTC filed its petition on Sept. 22, 2005, in response to its perceived deficiencies in distributing multilingual emergency information in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina," the agency wrote.

The FCC is reopening the comment period for another month as it considers such a rule.

The rule would require certain stations to air all presidential messages in both English and Spanish. To a lesser extent, emergency broadcasts in certain areas may also be aired in other languages, such as French or Mandarin.

Spanish is the primary language for more than 38 million people living in America, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But many Spanish speakers do not speak English, so the FCC wants to ensure that they can be reached by emergency broadcast.

The petition called for state and local governments to designate a local primary Spanish channel for emergencies. It also called for state governments to establish a local primary multilingual station "in local areas where a substantial proportion of the population has its primary fluency in a language other than English or Spanish," the agency said.

At least one broadcaster in every market would be required to monitor and rebroadcast emergency information aired by the local primary Spanish stations.

Furthermore, if one of the primary Spanish stations lost its transmission capability, other English-speaking stations remaining on the air would be required to broadcast emergency messages from the station. Those stations would be the "designated hitters."

The petition also called for broadcasters in each region to develop a plan for responding to emergency situations, and said broadcasters should have to certify that they understand their role.

The Independent Spanish Broadcasters Association and Office of Communications of the United Church of Christ also joined in the petition.