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Legislation Introduced to Improve Missile Alert System

July 18, 2018, 9:17 AM HST (Updated July 18, 2018, 9:17 AM)
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False missile alert, Jan. 13, 2018.

U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and John Thune (R-S.D) introduced the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement (READI) Act of 2018 on July 18.

The bipartisan legislation would ensure more people receive relevant emergency alerts on their mobile phones, televisions and radios, 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.

“When a missile alert went out across Hawai‘i in January, some people never got the message on their phones, while others missed it on their TVs and radios. Even though it was a false alarm, the missile alert exposed real flaws in the way people receive emergency alerts,” said Sen. Schatz, lead Democrat on the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet. “Our bill fixes a number of important problems with the system responsible for delivering emergency alerts. In a real emergency, these alerts can save lives so we have to do everything we can to get it right.”

“Emergency alerts save lives but management mistakes can erode their credibility and effectiveness. The READI Act implements lessons learned from past incidents and recognizes that emergency protocols must change along with communication technology,” said Sen. Thune, chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

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The Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alert 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. 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 would:

  • 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 establishing a system to offer emergency alerts 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;
  • Compel FEMA to create best practices for state, tribal, and local governments to use for issuing alerts, avoiding false alerts, and retracting false alerts if they occur, as well as for alert origination training and plans for officials to contact each other and federal officials during emergencies; and
  • Establish a reporting system for false alerts so the FCC can track when they occur and examine their causes.
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In addition to the READI Act, Sen. Schatz introduced the ALERT Act earlier this year. The legislation, which passed the Senate last month, would give the federal government the primary responsibility of alerting the public of a missile threat.

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