Legislation Passed to Improve How Public Receives Missile Alerts

December 17, 2018, 4:14 PM HST (Updated December 17, 2018, 4:14 PM)
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The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement (READI) Act on Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. The bipartisan legislation, introduced by U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz, John Thune (R-S.D.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), will 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.

False Missile alert message sent on Jan. 6, 2018.

“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,” said Sen. 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 receive emergency alerts. Our bill fixes some of these issues and will help make sure that in an emergency, the public gets the right information they need as quickly as possible.”

“When an emergency happens, the public needs to be made aware in a timely and effective manner,” said Sen. Thune, Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. “The READI Act addresses a number of emergency alert system issues to improve the reliability of potentially lifesaving communications.”

“The READI Act will ensure more Americans receive lifesaving information during emergencies ranging from natural disasters to terrorist attacks,” said Sen. Wicker, Chairman of the Senate Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet Subcommittee. “Importantly, this bill will also address the problem of false alerts, which deteriorate public confidence in the emergency alert system. I am proud to have worked with Senators Schatz and Thune on this important legislation to protect the American people.”

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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 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;
  • 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.

In addition to the READI Act, Senator Schatz introduced the ALERT Act earlier this year. The legislation, which passed the Senate in June, would give the federal government the primary responsibility of alerting the public of a missile threat.

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