The FCC on Thursday took action to pass a proposal that will strengthen the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system amid pressure from lawmakers, police groups and emergency responders.
The new rules expand the maximum number of characters permitted in WEA messages from 90 to 360 on 4G LTE and next generation networks; require support for embedded phone numbers and URLs in all WEA messages; require the delivery of messages in more granular geographic areas; require providers to support the transmission of Spanish-language alerts; and make it easier for state and local authorities to test the system, train personnel and raise public awareness of the system.
Additionally, the FCC’s rules create a new, fourth class of alerts – dubbed Public Safety Messages – to convey “essential, recommended actions that can save loves or property.” Some examples of Public Safety Messages include emergency shelter locations or boil water advisories, the FCC said. The WEA system formerly only allowed three types of messages: alerts issued by the president, alerts related to imminent threats to life or safety and Amber Alerts.
The passage of the new rules comes amid pressure from lawmakers and officials including U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neil, the New York City Emergency Management Department and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as well as emergency management officials from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, NOAA and the National Weather Service, who reached out in the wake of recent bombings in New York and New Jersey asking the FCC to update the system. The New York officials in particular argued an upgraded system that supported picture messages would have helped them share more details about the suspected bomber’s appearance.
The new rules, though, don’t yet include that capability.
The FCC did not include a requirement for support picture messages in its new rules, but did note the public safety benefits of such a feature. The Commission put out a fresh Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to seek comment on how to achieve this feature in Public Safety Messages in particular. In the meantime, the FCC said the use of embedded links will allow the public to click through to see images and additional information from alerts.
The WEA system was launched in 2012, but the technical and procedural requirements for the system were adopted in 2008. The FCC said the latest rules will adapt the system to reflect its real-world use and technical advancements made since its inception.
“The system works – and now it will work better,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. “With these new rules, we are taking action to make this life-saving service even more useful by incorporating lessons learned from the first four years of service and by levering technological advances.”
Filed Under: Industry regulations