Government Approves Emergency Text Message Alerts

The Federal Communications Commission has taken the first steps in enacting a nationwide emergency alert system. Will it work?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has taken the first steps in enacting a nationwide emergency alert system. The system will send text messages to your cell phone in the event of a disaster or other emergency. Will it work?

I have to applaud the FCC for this move. I think it is long overdue. The most important resource to have during any emergency, attack or natural disaster is knowledge. Some events can cause our most-used tool to access information--the television set--to go dark, so back-up sources of information are obviously needed. This system could provide one such back-up.

In its current state, there are three types of events that will trigger the emergency alerts:

• National alerts from the president, most likely involving a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

• Regional alerts about "imminent threats", such as natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes or tornadoes.

• Regional alerts for child abductions and Amber alerts.

The emergency alerts will be created by an as-yet-unnamed government agency. The agency will then pass the messages to the wireless network operators. The network operators, who have to opt into this system, will then push the alerts to the appropriate subscriber segments. So far, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless have all said they will adopt the program.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin said, "The ability to deliver accurate and timely warnings and alerts through cell phones and other mobile services is an important next step in our efforts to help ensure that the American public has the information they need to take action to protect themselves and their families prior to, and during, disasters and other emergencies."

The one thing that bugs me about the entire system is that end-users can opt out if they wish. This can greatly negate the usefulness of the program. Also, not everyone checks their cell phones regularly, nor even carries one. But, this is certainly one way to get important information into the hands of the people who are most likely to be impacted by one of these three types of events.