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Emergency Captioning

Emergency Captioning

FCC regulations require that ALL emergency information presented orally on television also be available visually to people with hearing loss. The best (some would argue the only) way to do this is with captions. This page explores issues directly related to emergency television captioning. You may also be interested in a broader discussion of  emergency communications for people with hearing loss.

April 2000 – FCC Requires Emergency Captioning

October 2000 – In response to the recent FCC requirement that emergency information be broadcast, Vitac announced a newemergency captioning service.


March 2001 – Television Stations Violate FCC Emergency Captioning Rules


January 2002 – Here’s the latest on emergency captioning from the FCC.


June 2002 – Think that complaining doesn’t do any good? Here’s Diane Edge to prove you wrong. And this article includes a sample complaint form you can modify when you complain about lack of emergency captioning!


September 2002 – Emergency Information Access Complaints


October 2002 – Sniper shootings in the Washington DC area, and much of the coverage isn’t captioned. You’re not going to believe how this situation develops!


April 2003 – The FCC reminds broadcasters that they must caption emergency information. But what about things like breaking war news? Here are some thoughts on an expanded definition of emergency information.


November 2003 – San Diego recently experienced the worst wildfire in the county’s history. Fourteen people died, hundreds of homes burned, thousands of people were evacuated, and many of the local TV stations failed to provide captioning for emergency information as the firestorm advanced on the city. A local hearing loss service agency filed complaints with the FCC. Want to know how that turned out?


December 2004 – Here’s Leonard Hall’s article on emergency captioning problems during Florida’s Hurricane Charley.


February 2005 – The FCC has finally acted on the complaint against San Diego TV stations for failure to provide emergency communications access during the wildfires of October 2003. Here’s the scoop!


June 2005 – The FCC issues its second set of complaints for failure of television stations to provide people with hearing loss with access to emergency information!

September 2005 – The FCC has just fined a third group of TV stationsfor failure to provide appropriate emergency communications access to people with hearing loss. These fines involve emergency coverage of Hurricane Charley in August 2004.

December 2005 – Here’s a great statement of the requirements for emergency “captioning” from the folks at DHHCAN.


January 2007 – The FCC has clarified the August 2006 public notice, which appeared to relax emergency captioning requirements.


February 2007 – WINK-TV to pay $16,000 over Hurricane Charley captioning


June 2007 – FCC Addresses Emergency Communication Concerns





FCC Requires Emergency Captioning

April 2000

Here’s some good news about emergency captioning. My initial response was to applaud the FCC for this new requirement. But after some additional consideration, I’m inclined to think they should be chastised for not requiring this ten years ago. Applauding them for finally getting around to doing their job seems inappropriate.

Many people with hearing loss have been in an emergency situation and been unable to obtain even the most rudimentary information. If that’s new information to you, please think about it for a minute. Imagine being in an earthquake or a terrible storm, rushing to the television, seeing emergency coverage, and not being able to understand what the reporter is saying. In extreme situation, not being able to understand an emergency broadcast could cost you your life. Yet that has been the norm for millions of Americans.

It appears that this deplorable situation will soon be corrected. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously approved a new ruling that requires all emergency broadcasts to be accessible to people with hearing loss. They didn’t specifically require captioning, but that seems the obvious solution. Furthermore, the ruling requires that the emergency communications system be in place within 60 days.

Television Stations Violate FCC Emergency Captioning Rules

March 2001

The February issue of the NAD Broadcaster contained a wonderful article describing how television stations continue to violate the FCC rules on emergency captioning. Written by Sarah Geer of the NAD Law Center, the article describes several types of common violations and gives examples of each. It also addresses what to do if your local TV station is violating these rules. Here’s a summary of the information in that article.

The FCC rules state that, effective August 29, 2000, all television broadcasters are required to provide emergency announcements in a visual format, and that the announcements and closed captions may not block each other. In other words, when an emergency announcement is provided, both the visual announcement and the captions of the spoken text must be visible on the screen. This rule applies to all television broadcasters, including cable and satellite broadcasters, and to all emergency announcements, whether given during regular program, special announcements, or ongoing programming.

If your local station is in violation of these rules, you should first contact the station manager or chief engineer and request that they correct the problems. In many cases, the station may quickly resolve the issue.

If the station is unresponsive, you should file a complaint with the FCC. The complaint should include the name of the television station, the date and time of the violation, and the type of emergency involved. Send your complaint to:

Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
445 12th St. S.W.
Washington D.C. 20554

Or contact them at:
202-418-7096 V
202-418-2520 TTY
202-418-1414 FAX

For more information about FCC rules and other telecommunications issues, visit the FCC Disability Rights Office website at www.fcc.gov/cib/dro or contact the NAD Law Center at 301-587-7730 V/TTY or nadlaw@nad.org.


FCC Reminds Broadcasters to Caption Emergency Information

April 2003

Editor: The FCC has required that emergency information be accessible to people with disabilities (including hearing loss) since February 2, 2001. There are a number of specifics to the ruling, including prohibitions on captioning blocking other emergency information. From what I’ve seen, the compliance with this ruling has been spotty. That may be the reason for the reminder.

Here’s an interesting comment from the folks at NVRC, who point out that many events that aren’t really emergencies are still of interest to people with hearing loss, and they aren’t covered by this ruling. This includes things like broadcast interruptions with breaking war news. Here’s the NVRC notice, which includes a link to the FCC reminder.


On March 20, 2003 the Federal Communications Commission sent another reminder to “Video Programming Distributors” about their legal obligation under 47 C.F.R $ 79.2 to make emergency information accessible to persons with hearing or vision disabilities. This is at least the second time that such a reminder was sent to TV stations, cable providers, etc. about their responsibility to make sure captioning is provided since the rule became effective in February 2, 2001.

Unfortunately the text of the ruling and fact sheet were made in a world where our emergencies were somewhat different – before 9/11, before the sniper attacks, before our current war with Iraq. The examples of “emergency” are heavy on weather conditions and some types of disasters — discharge of toxic gases, power failures, industrial explosions. As the events of the past two years have shown, there are a lot of other things that deaf and hard of hearing people consider worthy of the term “emergency” such as the evening when our President interrupted broadcasts to declare war and the war coverage when many of our friends, neighbors and loved ones are fighting or living in Iraq and the neighboring countries.

If you’d like to view the fact sheet:

(c) 2003 Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons.


More TV Stations Fined For Failure to Provide Communications Access

Television stations in San Diego and the Washington DC area have been fined in the past couple of years for failure to provide appropriate communications access to people with hearing loss. These incidents are normally described as failure to provide emergency captioning, but note that captioning in not required. What is required is that any emergency information that is provided aurally also be provided in a form that is accessible to people with hearing loss. I believe that captions are the best way to do this. But if the information can be conveyed using crawls, graphics, maps, etc., that also satisfies the requirements.

The latest fines involve two TV stations in southwest Florida that were fined for “failing in a timely manner to make accessible to persons with hearing disabilities emergency information that they provided aurally.” The incidents occurred as Hurricane Charley ravaged the area on August 13 of last year.

It looks like the FCC is serious about addressing these incidents, so let’s all be vigilant about reporting situations in our area. Information on filing a complaint with the FCC is available athttp://www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html.


WINK-TV to pay $16,000 over Hurricane Charley captioning

February 2007

The local CBS affiliate is paying a steep price for not providing enough closed-captioned information during Hurricane Charley. WINK-TV has voluntarily agreed to pay the Federal Communications Commission $16,000 to settle a complaint brought by local hearing-impaired viewers. The storm, which hit in August 2004, came ashore along Lee County’s barrier islands before sweeping across Charlotte County. WINK-TV dropped all its regular programming and was in solid storm coverage in the hours leading up to landfall. The station’s team of anchors, reporters and meteorol ogists supplied a steady stream of information to viewers. The only problem: Many of the fast-changing details were spoken aloud by the news team, but didn’t make it into the more limited written information WINK was providing in its graphics and news tickers along the bottom of the screen.  Full Story