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article imageDisaster Alerts Via Your Cell Phone

By Susan Duclos     Apr 11, 2008 in Technology
Taking us one step closer to being alerted via our cell phones if a disaster were imminent, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has moved to set up a system that would send text alerts to people on their mobile phones.
The idea for this alert system was initiated from the Warning, Alert, and Response Network (WARN) Act, which was passed in the US Congress in 2006.
Establishment- There is established a voluntary National Alert System to provide a public communications system capable of alerting the public on a national, regional, or local basis to emergency situations requiring a public response.
The functions of the The National Alert System, as stated in the House bill are:
(1) will enable any Federal, State, tribal, or local government official with credentials issued under section 3 by the National Alert Office to alert the public to any imminent threat that presents a significant risk of injury or death to the public;
(2) will be coordinated with and supplement existing Federal, State, tribal, and local emergency warning and alert systems;
(3) will be flexible enough in its application to permit narrowly targeted alerts in circumstances in which only a small geographic area is exposed or potentially exposed to the threat; and
(4) will transmit alerts across the greatest possible variety of communications technologies, including digital and analog broadcasts, cable and satellite television, satellite and terrestrial radio, wireless communications, wireline communications, and the Internet to reach the largest portion of the affected population.
Since the passing of that bill, which was part of a security bill, the FCC has been working closely with wireless carriers as part of the Commercial Service Alert Advisory Committee (CMSAAC) to figure out the logistics of how to implement the alerts.
Yesterday Verison, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint all have agreed to join in the effort, with the vice president and general counsel of Verizon, issuing a statement saying, "Wireless customers have come to rely on their mobile devices, especially in emergency situations, and this action by the FCC is a significant step toward ensuring alerts that serve the public interest will soon be available to wireless users."
Sprint's spokesperson said, "Sprint is pleased that the FCC's adoption of the mobile alert system was based largely on the SMS CMSAAC recommendations and we look forward to providing a mobile alert system that meets the nation's needs."
AT&T's announcement was made by their assistant vice president for federal regulatory affairs, Jim Bugel, in a statement which read, "We are reviewing the details of the FCC's order, but this is clearly a significant milestone and we applaud the FCC for its efforts. While there is still much work to be done before such a system can be put into widespread use, we look forward to offering mobile emergency alerts to our customers."
According to an article in the PC World, this system would sent out three types of alerts, Imminent Threat Alerts, Child Abduction Emergency/AMBER Alerts and Presidential Alerts.
Although FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) was involved in developing the idea of a single agency to collect and send alerts to wireless carriers, they objected to playing that role of that single agency, citing, "statutory reasons", according to Commissioner Michael Copps in a written statement. (Word Document)
In a statement from FCC Chairman, Kevin Martin, he says "By adopting technical requirements for the wireless alerting system today, we are enabling wireless providers that choose to participate in this system to begin designing their networks to deliver mobile alerts. It would have been better, of course, if we had a Federal entity in place now to take on the role of alert aggregator and gateway. We are hopeful that we have initiated the dialogue that will allow an appropriate Federal entity to assume that central role in an expeditious manner."
Once a federal agency is set up and is willing to be that gateway, participating wireless providers will then have 10 months to comply with CMAS rules.
Once the system is in place, the initial alerts will be set up as text messages although hopes are to have the capability to add audio and video services.
More about Cell phones, Disaster alerts, Sms, Text message
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