Specific Area Message Encoding

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) is a protocol used for framing and classification of broadcast emergency warning messages. It was developed by the United States National Weather Service for use on its NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) network, and was later adopted by the Federal Communications Commission for the Emergency Alert System, then subsequently by Environment Canada for use on its Weatheradio Canada service. It is also used to set off receivers in Mexico City and surrounding areas as part of the Mexican Seismic Alert System (SASMEX).


From the 1960s to the 1980s, a special feature of the NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) system was the transmission of a single 1050 Hz  attention tone prior to the broadcast of any message alerting the general public of significant weather events. This became known as the Warning Alarm Tone (WAT). Although it served NWR well, there were many drawbacks. Without staff at media facilities to manually evaluate the need to rebroadcast an NWR message using the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS), automatic rebroadcasting of all messages preceded by just the WAT was unacceptable and impractical. Even if stations and others with the need were willing to allow for this type of automatic capture, assuming the events for activation were critical, there was no way for automated equipment at the station to know when the message was complete and restore it back to normal operation.

SAME had its beginnings in the early 1980s when NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS) began experimenting with system using analog tones in a dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) format to transmit data with radio broadcasts.[1] In 1985, the NWS forecast offices began experimenting with placing special digital codes at the beginning and end of every message concerning life- or property-threatening weather conditions targeting a specific area. The intent of what became SAME was to ultimately transmit a code with the initial broadcast of all NWR messages. However, the roll-out moved slowly until 1995, when the U.S. Government provided the budget needed to develop the SAME technology across the entire radio network. Nationwide implementation occurred in 1997, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted the SAME standard as part of its new Emergency Alert System (EAS).[2] In 2003, NOAA established a SAME technology standard for weather radio receivers.

The SAME technique was later adopted by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1997[3] for use in the EAS as well as by Environment Canada[4] for its Weatheradio Canada service in 2004. Much like the original EBS dual-tone Attention Signal , this produces a distinct sound (the SAME header ) which is easily recognized by most individuals due to its use in weekly and monthly broadcast tests, as well as weather alert messages. During the said events, viewers and/or listeners will hear these digital codes in the form of buzzes, chirps, and clicking sounds (or what broadcast engineers affectionately call "duck farts")[5] just before the attention signal is sent out and at the conclusion of the voice message.[6]

Format of digital parts[edit]

In the SAME system, messages are constructed in four parts, the first and last of which are digital and the middle two are audio. The digital sections of a SAME message are AFSK data bursts, with individual bits lasting 1920 μs (1.92 ms) each, giving a bit rate of 52056 bits per second. A mark bit is four complete cycles of a sine wave, translating to a mark frequency of 208313 Hz, and a space bit is three complete sine wave cycles, making the space frequency 1562.5 Hz.

The data is sent isochronously and encoded in 8-bit bytes with the most-significant bit of each ASCII byte set to zero. The least-significant bit of each byte is transmitted first, including the preamble. The data stream is bit and byte synchronized on the preamble.[7]

Since there is no error correction, the digital part of a SAME message is transmitted three times, so that decoders can pick "best two out of three" for each byte, thereby eliminating most errors which can cause an activation to fail.[citation needed]

Header format[edit]

The text of the header code is a fixed format:


This is broken down as follows:

1. A preamble of binary 10101011 (0xAB in hex) repeated sixteen times, used for "receiver calibration" (i.e., clock synchronization), then the letters ZCZC as an attention to the decoder (a message activation method inherited from NAVTEX).

2. ORG — Originator code; programmed per unit when put into operation[8]

  • PEP – Primary Entry Point Station
    • President or other authorized national officials
  • CIV – Civil authorities
    • i.e. Governor, state/local emergency management, local police/fire officials
  • WXR – National Weather Service (or Environment Canada.)
    • Any weather-related alert
  • EAS – EAS Participant
    • Broadcasters. Generally only used with test messages.
  • EAN – Emergency Action Notification Network (No longer used.)

3. EEE — Event code; programmed at time of event

4. PSSCCC — Location codes (up to 31 location codes per message), each beginning with a dash character; programmed at time of event

  • In the United States, the first digit (P) is zero if the entire county or area is included in the warning, otherwise, it is a non-zero number depending on the cardinal location of the emergency within the area.[9] The remaining five digits are the FIPS state (SS) and county code (CCC). The entire state may be specified by using county code 000 (three zeros).
  • In Canada, all six digits make up a Canadian Location Code, which corresponds to a specific forecast region as used by the Meteorological Service of Canada. All forecast region numbers are six digits with the first digit always zero.

5. TTTT — Purge time of the alert event (from exact time of issue)

  • In the format hhmm, using 15-minute increments up to one hour, using 30-minute increments up to six hours, and using hourly increments beyond six hours. Weekly and monthly tests sometimes have a 12-hour or greater purge time to assure users have an ample opportunity to verify reception of the test event messages; however; 15 minutes is more common, especially on NOAA Weather Radio's tests.
  • For short term events (like a tornado) this value could be set to 0000 (four zeros), which will purge the warning immediately after the message has been received. However, this is not typical, and FCC guidelines suggest a minimum of 15 minutes purge time.
  • The purge time is not intended to coincide with the actual end of the event. Longer events that may not end for days (like hurricanes) may have a purge time of only a few hours. That an event message has been purged does not indicate or imply that the threat has passed.

6. JJJHHMM — Exact time of issue, in UTC, (without time zone adjustments).

  • JJJ is the Ordinal date (day) of the year, with leading zeros
  • HHMM is the hours and minutes (24-hour format), in UTC, with leading zeros

7. LLLLLLLL — Eight-character station callsign identification, with "/" used instead of "–" (such as the first eight letters of a cable headend's location, WABC/FM for WABC-FM, KLOX/NWS for a weather radio station programmed from Los Angeles, or EC/GC/CA for a Weatheradio Canada station).

Each field of the header code is terminated by a dash character, including the station ID at the end; individual PSSCCC location numbers are also separated by dashes, with a plus (+) separating the last location from the purge time that follows it.

Full message format[edit]

An EAS message contains these elements, in this transmitted sequence:

  1. Header.
  2. Attention signal — Sent if any message is included (normally sent with all messages except RWT on broadcast radio/TV); must be at least eight seconds long. (On weather radio in Canada the 1050 Hz tone is only used with three event codes: RMT, SVR & TOR[citation needed])
  3. Message — Audio, video image or video text.
  4. Tail — (Preamble) NNNN (EOM).

There is one second of blank audio between each section, and before and after each message. For those used to packet communications systems where each packet has a checksum, note that there is no checksum used in the message format. The header and EOM are transmitted 3 times,[10] and the receiver is obliged to implement columnar parity correction.

The combined tones date back to 1976[citation needed] when they were made part of the Emergency Broadcast System, the EAS' predecessor.

Event codes[edit]

There are roughly 80 different event codes that are used in EAS. These codes are defined federally by the FCC for use in the EAS system and publicly by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) standard[11] for SAME protocol weather radio receiver decoder units.

All but the first six of these used to be optional and could be programmed into encoder/decoder units at the request of the broadcaster. However, a July 12, 2007 memo by the FCC now requires mandatory participation in state and local level EAS by broadcasters. Furthermore, the creation and evolution of a voluntary standard by the CEA in December 2003 has provided participating manufacturers of weather radio receivers a single definitive reference to use when designing and programming receivers. In addition, some receiver manufacturers have added an additional layer as to whether or not an event code can be user-suppressed (e.g., a Hurricane Warning in a Midwest US State) or will never be allowed to be suppressed (e.g., nuclear power plant warning).

Key for event code tables
USA type key CAN/MEX type key Event level key
M Mandatory code AB Administrative bulletin ADV Advisory
O1 Original optional code CI Currently implemented WCH Watch
O2 2002 optional code[12][13] RT Required test WRN Warning
O3 2017 optional code[14] FI For future implementation TEST Test
NI Not implemented NI Not implemented
TS Testing for Implementation
Event codes in use:
The following event codes have been implemented by agencies in the United States and/or Canada, and CIRES A.C. in Mexico.
Event Code U.S. Type CAN. Type MEX. Type Event Description Event Level
ADR O1 AB NI Administrative Message ADV
AVA O2 FI NI Avalanche Watch WCH
AVW O2 FI NI Avalanche Warning WRN
BLU O3 NI NI Blue Alert WRN
BZW O1 CI NI Blizzard Warning WRN
CAE O2 FI NI Child Abduction Emergency ADV
CDW O2 FI NI Civil Danger Warning WRN
CEM O1 FI NI Civil Emergency Message WRN
CFA O2 FI NI Coastal Flood Watch WCH
CFW O2 FI NI Coastal Flood Warning WRN
DMO O1 AB NI Practice/Demo Warning (Or simply just Practice/Demo on NOAA Weather Radio). TEST
DSW O2 CI NI Dust Storm Warning WRN
EAN M FI NI Emergency Action Notification (Begins a nationwide EAS activation) (implemented on a very select few of NOAA Weather Radio Stations.) WRN
EAT NI FI NI Emergency Action Termination (previously ended a nationwide EAS activation) (No longer used after 2012.) ADV
EQW O2 FI CI Earthquake Warning WRN
EVI O1 FI NI Evacuation Immediate (Or Immediate Evacuation on NOAA Weather Radio.) WRN
EWW O3 NI NI Extreme Wind Warning WRN
FFA O1 FI NI Flash Flood Watch WCH
FFS O1 FI NI Flash Flood Statement ADV
FFW O1 FI NI Flash Flood Warning WRN
FLA O1 FI NI Flood Watch WCH
FLS O1 FI NI Flood Statement ADV
FLW O1 FI NI Flood Warning WRN
FRW O2 FI NI Fire Warning WRN
FSW NI CI NI Flash Freeze Warning WRN
FZW NI CI NI Freeze Warning (also known as a "Frost Warning" in Canada.) WRN
HLS O1 FI TS Hurricane Local Statement ADV
HMW O2 FI NI Hazardous Materials Warning WRN
HUA O1 CI TS Hurricane Watch WCH
HUW O1 CI TS Hurricane Warning WRN
HWA O1 FI NI High Wind Watch WCH
HWW O1 CI NI High Wind Warning WRN
LAE O2 FI NI Local Area Emergency ADV
LEW O2 FI NI Law Enforcement Warning WRN
NAT NI AB NI National Audible Test TEST
NIC M AB NI National Information Center (typically used to follow up an Emergency Action Notification) ADV
NMN O2 AB NI Network Notification Message ADV
NPT M AB NI National Periodic Test TEST
NST NI AB NI National Silent Test TEST
NUW O2 FI NI Nuclear Power Plant Warning WRN
RHW O2 FI NI Radiological Hazard Warning WRN
RMT M RT NI Required Monthly Test TEST
RWT M RT CI Required Weekly Test TEST
SMW O2 TS NI Special Marine Warning WRN
SPS O1 FI NI Special Weather Statement ADV
SPW O2 FI NI Shelter In-Place warning WRN
SQW O1 CI NI Snow Squall Warning WRN
SSA O3 NI NI Storm Surge Watch WCH
SSW O3 NI NI Storm Surge Warning WRN
SVA O1 CI NI Severe Thunderstorm Watch WCH
SVR O1 CI NI Severe Thunderstorm Warning WRN
SVS O1 TS NI Severe Weather Statement (U.S., CAN) ADV
TOA O1 CI NI Tornado Watch WCH
TOE O2 FI NI 911 Telephone Outage Emergency ADV
TOR O1 CI NI Tornado Warning[15] WRN
TRA O2 CI NI Tropical Storm Watch WCH
TRW O2 CI NI Tropical Storm Warning WRN
TSA O1 TS NI Tsunami Watch WCH
TSW O1 TS NI Tsunami Warning WRN
VOW O2 FI CI Volcano Warning WRN
WSA O1 CI NI Winter Storm Watch WCH
WSW O1 CI NI Winter Storm Warning WRN
??A O2 CI NI Unrecognized Watch WCH
??E O2 CI NI Unrecognized Emergency ADV
??S O2 CI NI Unrecognized Statement ADV
??W O2 CI NI Unrecognized Warning WRN

* Unrecognized Alerts are only seen on NOAA Weather Radios. This is typically due to poor reception, or for newly-implemented event codes, an older radio does not recognize it.

** While the CEA standard[11] lists the FZW event code as "Freeze Warning", Environment Canada refers to it[16] as a "Frost Warning". However, it will be displayed as a "Freeze Warning" on receivers that are compliant to the CEA standard.
Environment Canada additionally uses[16] the WSW event code to refer to any of the following weather conditions: Blowing Snow Warning, Freezing Drizzle Warning, Freezing Rain Warning, Snowfall Warning, Snow Squall Warning
*** The EQW and VOW event codes are used in Mexico as part of the Mexican Seismic Alert System (also known as SASMEX). EQW is referred as "Alerta Sísmica", while VOW is referred to as "Alerta Volcánica".[17] Other event codes are being tested, such as Hurricane Warning (HUW), Hurricane Watch (HUA) and Hurricane Statement (HLS). Required Weekly Tests (RWT) are conducted every three hours to make sure receivers are working properly.[18]
**** The FCC created the BLU code for Blue Alerts beginning on December 14, 2017.[19]
*****The FCC in 2012 modified protocol for national EAS activations. Emergency Action Notifications are now treated as any other EAS alert (except that it is mandatory to air), eliminating the need for Emergency Action Terminations, so the FCC removed it from operation.[20]
Internal use only:
Receiver decoders that comply to the CEA standard[11] will neither display the messages below, nor activate a warning tone if applicable. While the message will be stored in memory, it will not be displayed to the user. The FCC has also designated[12] these event codes as being for "internal use only", and not for display. Environment Canada lists[16] these messages as "Administrative Bulletins".
Event Code U.S. Type CAN. Type Event Description Event Level
TXB O2 AB Transmitter Backup On ADV
TXF O2 AB Transmitter Carrier Off ADV
TXO O2 AB Transmitter Carrier On ADV
TXP O2 AB Transmitter Primary On ADV
The above events are only seen on NOAA Weather Radio if certain situations happen, such as a station losing power. In this case, the "TXB" or "Transmitter Backup On" code would be transmitted, following by beeping noises of multiple frequencies, finally followed by EOM tones. However, these tones are not typically transmitted over the air.
Future implementation:
The following codes are part of the CEA standard[11] for receiver decoders, but are not listed as being in use by any agencies in the United States. Environment Canada lists[16] these codes as being "for future implementation". None of these event codes are being implemented in Mexico, as Mexico's network is for seismic and volcanic alerts at this time.
Event Code U.S. Type CAN. Type Event Description Event Level
BHW NI FI Biological Hazard Warning WRN
BWW NI FI Boil Water Warning WRN
CHW NI FI Chemical Hazard Warning WRN
CWW NI FI Contaminated Water Warning WRN
DBW NI FI Dam Break Warning WRN
DEW NI FI Contagious Disease Warning WRN
EVA NI FI Evacuation Watch WCH
FCW NI FI Food Contamination Warning WRN
IBW NI FI Iceberg Warning WRN
IFW NI FI Industrial Fire Warning WRN
LSW NI FI Landslide Warning WRN
POS NI FI Power Outage Advisory ADV
WFA NI FI Wild Fire Watch WCH
WFW NI FI Wild Fire Warning WRN

The FCC established naming conventions for EAS event codes. The third letter of the code must be one of the following.[21]

Third letter of event code Category Description
W Warning An event that alone poses a significant threat to public safety and/or property, probability of occurrence and location is high, and the onset time is relatively short.
A Watch Meets the classification of a warning, but either the onset time, probability of occurrence, or location is uncertain.
E Emergency An event that, by itself, would not kill or injure or do property damage, but indirectly may cause other things to happen that result in a hazard.
S Statement A message containing follow up information to a warning, watch, or emergency.

The exception to this convention is for "TOR" (tornado warning), "SVR" (severe thunderstorm warning), "EVI" (evacuation immediate), "EAN, EAT, NIC" (the EAS national activation codes), and "ADR" (administrative messages).[12]

On weather radio receivers[edit]

An example of a SAME alert weather radio receiver.

There are many weather/all-hazards radio receivers that are equipped with the SAME alert feature, which allows users to program SAME/FIPS/CLC codes for their designated area or areas of their interest and/or concern rather than the entire broadcast area. (For example, a person living in Irving, Texas, would program a FIPS code for Dallas County. However, if there is a need to know of severe weather from the west and northwest ahead of time, the user would program additional FIPS codes for Denton and Tarrant Counties.)

On a more specialized receiver, a user has the option to eliminate any SAME alert codes that may not apply to their area such as a "Special Marine Warning" or a "Coastal Flood Warning". Once the SAME header is sent by NOAA/NWS and if it matches the desired code(s), the receivers then decode the event, scroll it on their display screens, and sound an alarm.

Receivers receive on one of the following National Weather Service network frequencies (in MHz): 162.400, 162.425, 162.450, 162.475, 162.500, 162.525, and 162.550. The signals are typically receivable up to 40 miles (80 km) from the transmitters.[22]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Iowa State Cyclones football sports program uses a SAME tone at the end of the pregame video before the football team takes the field. The SAME message is followed by the following narration: "This is a Cyclone Weather Alert! Ladies and Gentlemen, radar has indicated a strong storm approaching Jack Trice Stadium. High winds and low visibility are expected. [The opposing team's] fans in the area should seek immediate cover...."[23]
  • The EOM (end of message) tone was heard in the movie trailer for Knowing and in the series Jericho in which its familiar emergency use and its increasing cadence create a sense of foreboding.[24]
  • It was used in the movie trailers for Olympus Has Fallen and The Purge. The uses have since been heavily discouraged on air by the Federal Communications Commission (outside public service announcements demonstrating SAME and EAS technology), and stations and networks using them (for instance, TBS and WNKY in Bowling Green, Kentucky) in advertising or promotions have been fined for doing so.[25][26]
  • The SAME tones can be heard in the Impractical Jokers episode "Virtual Insanity".
  • SAME tones can be heard in the Warzone mode of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare when the arena is about to shrink.
  • SAME Tones are heard in the campaign of the popular video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, prior to the mission “Of Their Own Accord”. Ironically, these tones are decoded down to an EAS Participant issuing a Required Weekly Test on station WLS-TV.
  • In the 2020 video game Black Mesa, entire emergency messages with SAME tones can be heard on radios as the player progresses, each describing the game's events with increasing urgency. In January 2015, prior to the game's release on Steam as early access, a website was launched that played back one such message as a teaser.

See also[edit]

  • Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) – A SAME-compatible digital format for multi-system warning coordination.
  • METAR – The international meteorological code for an aviation routine weather report.


  1. ^ Nelson, W.C. (2002). "American Warning Dissemination and NOAA Weather Radio".
  2. ^ "The History of NOAA Weather Radio". Weather Radios Direct. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  3. ^ NOAA Weather Radio - Watches, Warnings and Tones/Alarms – National Weather Service in Philadelphia/Mount Holly (accessed October 1, 2009)
  4. ^ http://www.ec.gc.ca/media_archive/press/2004/040107_b_e.htm  – The Green Lane: (Backgrounder) – Weatheradio Network (accessed Dec. 5, 2011)
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2010-06-28.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ WRSAME – Weather Radio Specific Area Message Encoder Archived 2013-04-15 at archive.today – Metro Skywarn (accessed August 20, 2009)
  7. ^ http://www.nws.noaa.gov/directives/sym/pd01017012curr.pdf[bare URL PDF]
  8. ^ 47CFR11.31(d)
  9. ^ "EAS protocol".
  10. ^ C. Hodan (October 3, 2011). National Weather Service Instruction 10-1712 (PDF) (Report). National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. p. A-1. Retrieved August 11, 2021.
  11. ^ a b c d Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) Technology Standard "CEA-2009-B (ANSI)", November 2010, accessed January 11, 2014.
  12. ^ a b c "Federal Communications Commission Report and Order" (PDF). February 22, 2002. Retrieved September 22, 2012.
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-10-18. Retrieved 2011-04-16.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ "Federal Communications Commission Report and Order" (PDF). July 11, 2016. Retrieved August 30, 2017.
  15. ^ The National Weather Service additionally uses the TOR event code to refer to an Extreme Wind Warning. See http://www.nws.noaa.gov/os/vtec/pdfs/EWWInstructions.pdf
  16. ^ a b c d Environment Canada – Weather and Meteorology – "SAME Event Codes"
  17. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Como Funciona el SARMEX". YouTube.
  18. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Alerta sismica en Puebla, frecuencia 162.475". YouTube.
  19. ^ "Blue Alert EAS Event Code". January 18, 2018. Retrieved February 1, 2019.
  20. ^ "Federal Communications Commission Fifth Report and Order" (PDF). 10 January 2012. Retrieved 15 July 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  21. ^ National Weather Service [1], accessed September 22, 2012.
  22. ^ NWR Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME), https://www.weather.gov/nwr/nwrsame
  23. ^ "Cyclone Weather Alert for Texas Longhorns Fans". Youtube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2020-01-08.
  24. ^ "Knowing: Trailer #2". IMDb. Retrieved 2020-01-08.
  25. ^ "MMK License LLC Agrees to Settle EAS Investigation". Federal Communications Commission. 2015-12-11. Retrieved 2020-01-08.
  26. ^ Eggerton, John (November 5, 2013). "FCC Proposes Fining TBS $25,000 Over 'Conan' Promo". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved 2020-01-08.

External links[edit]