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Legislation will improve emergency alert system; Schatz says goal is to avoid mishaps such as false missile scare

Federal legislation moving through Congress will ensure more people receive relevant emergency alerts on their mobile phones, televisions and radios. It also will explore new ways of alerting the public through online video and audio streaming services, track and study false alerts when they occur, and improve the way states plan for emergency alerts.

The bipartisan legislation, which is expected to easily pass Congress and be signed into law, is the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement (READI) Act, which is part of the annual must-pass National Defense Authorization Act.

The READI legislation was introduced by U.S. Senators Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and John Thune, R-South Dakota.

“When a missile alert went out across Hawaii in 2018, some people never got the message on their phones, while others missed it on their TVs and radios,” said Schatz, lead Democrat on the Senate Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet Subcommittee. “Even though it was a false alarm, the missile alert highlighted real ways we can improve the way people get emergency alerts.

“Our bill, which will soon become law, fixes some of these issues and will help make sure that in an emergency, the public gets the right information — on their phones, TVs, radios, and computers — as quickly as possible.”

The Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alerts System ensure that the public is quickly informed about emergency alerts issued by federal, state, tribal and local governments and delivered over the radio, television and mobile wireless devices.

These announcements keep the public safe and informed and have ever-increasing importance in the wake of the emergencies and disasters Americans faced throughout 2020.

FEMA administers the platform government agencies use to originate alerts, while the FCC oversees the systems used to distribute the alerts over broadcast and mobile wireless networks.

The READI Act will:

• Ensure more people receive emergency alerts by eliminating the option to opt out of receiving certain federal alerts, including missile alerts, on mobile phones;

• Require active alerts issued by the president or FEMA to be repeated. Currently, alerts on TV or radio may only be played once;

• Explore updating the system to offer emergency alerts over the internet, including to audio and video online streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify;

• Encourage state emergency communications committees to periodically review and update their State Emergency Alert System Plans, which are often out of date; and

• Establish a reporting system for false alerts so the FCC can track when they occur and examine their causes.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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