Proposed Law to Give Feds Authority for Missile Alerts

December 14, 2019, 10:09 AM HST (Updated December 14, 2019, 10:09 AM)
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False missile alert message sent statewide in Hawai‘i on Jan. 6, 2018.

A bipartisan bill authored by Sen. Brian Schatz will give the federal government responsibility for alerting the public of a missile threat.

The Authenticating Local Emergencies and Real Threats (ALERT) Act is intended to improve the emergency alert system and is expected to be signed into law, according to an announcement by Sen. Schatz’s office.

The bill was written in response to the false ballistic missile alert that was sent to mobile phones statewide in January 2018, spinning residents into a panic.

“These alerts save lives, so we have to get it right,” said Sen. Schatz. “The federal government is always the first to know of a missile threat and they should be responsible for telling the rest of us.”

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The false alert in Hawai‘i highlighted weaknesses in the state’s system, including a poorly designed user interface. The incident prompted calls for federal standards in the system and questioned state responsibility for issuing such alerts.

State and local government have primarily been responsible for alerting the public about threats posed by natural disasters and severe weather. The system has mostly relied on an inconsistent patchwork of technologies and procedures established by different agencies and governments.

According to Sen. Schatz’s office, the ALERT act will strengthen the way state and local governments use the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, the FEMA platform used by emergency management personnel to issue warnings nationwide.

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