Senate Passes Bill to Improve Emergency Alert System

June 28, 2019, 9:07 AM HST (Updated June 28, 2019, 9:08 AM)
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The US Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2020 on June 27, 2019, which includes two bills authored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i).

The Schatz provisions will improve the emergency alert system and give the federal government the sole responsibility of alerting the public of a missile threat, as well as protect coastal military bases from extreme weather events by requiring them to prepare for potential disasters and other risks posed by severe changes in environmental conditions.

“In the event of a missile threat, the people who know first should be the people who tell everyone else,” said Sen. Schatz. “This legislation makes clear that the authority to send missile alerts rests with the federal government. My legislation will also make sure we build stronger and smarter military bases so that our armed forces aren’t worried about extreme weather and can instead focus on protecting American interests at home and around the world.”

The Schatz provisions included are:

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The Authenticating Local Emergencies and Real Threats (ALERT) Act:

The NDAA includes language that would improve the emergency alert system and give the federal government the sole responsibility of alerting the public of a missile threat, prohibiting state and local governments from doing so. This legislation was originally introduced following the false emergency alert that went out across Hawai‘i on Jan. 13, 2018, and caused widespread panic.

State and local governments have been largely responsible for alerting the public of threats from natural disasters and severe weather. But the system they use rests upon a patchwork of technologies and procedures that are inconsistent across the government agencies that issue these alerts. The 2018 false alarm in Hawai‘i highlighted some of the weaknesses in the state’s emergency alert system, which had a poorly designed user interface and did not have a sufficient verification system or computer redundancies to act as a safeguard from mistakes. The incident showed the need for federal standards in the system and called into question the state’s ability to issue a missile alert.

The legislation would strengthen the way states and local governments use the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, the FEMA platform emergency management professionals across the country use to issue warnings.

The Requiring Every American Defense Installation to Nullify Environmental Stresses for Security (READINESS) Act:

The NDAA includes language that would protect coastal military bases from extreme weather events by requiring them to prepare for potential disasters and other risks posed by severe changes in environmental conditions.

Persistent flooding, drought, and wildfires pose the most significant threats to base operations and resilience for each of the military services. In the last year, multi-billion dollar storms destroyed Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, displacing the F-22 Joint Strike Fighter mission there, and devastated large parts of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, from where the Marine Corps’ II Marine Expeditionary Force deploys. Recently, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, home of the U.S. Strategic Command, was severely damaged by the major flooding that affected the Midwest.

$274.7 million to further development of a new homeland discrimination radar for Hawai‘i:

The bill also includes $274.7 million to further develop a new homeland discrimination radar for Hawai‘i. The Missile Defense Agency is continuing to evaluate sites on O‘ahu for the new radar, which, once completed, will help improve detection, tracking, and interception of missile threats from North Korea.

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