Broadcasters Could Pay USD 12M to Translate Emergency Alerts into 13 Languages

US Federal Communications Commission considers proposal expanding alerts for natural disasters

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is now accepting comments on a proposal to expand emergency alerts on television and radio into the 13 most-spoken languages, other than English, in the United States.

The 30-second emergency alerts inform listeners and viewers of natural disasters, such as earthquakes, fires, flash floods, severe thunderstorms, and tornados.   

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel pitched this proposal less than a year after suggesting wireless emergency alerts be translated into 15 languages using machine translation. Both proposals are intended to improve access for individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP).

The latest proposal, which the FCC discussed at a February 15, 2024 meeting, establishes options for emergency managers to use pre-scripted, template alert messages and pre-recorded messages in languages other than English.

One difference between the proposals is that users of mobile devices would be able to select the language of their emergency alerts, based on the language used on the device. 

Broadcasters would be required to transmit emergency alerts according to the language of their programming. (A Spanish-language radio station, for example, would be required to air emergency alerts in Spanish.) 

Television and radio stations broadcasting in languages other than the 13 covered by the proposal might stick with English-language emergency alerts. The FCC recently published a Public Notice seeking feedback on templates of non-English-language emergency alerts

Stations could also opt to broadcast emergency alerts in more than one language, but the current proposal does not require it. 

The FCC estimated the cost of labor, for expanding multilingual emergency alerts, at USD 12m. The broadcasting industry would be expected to foot the bill.