An emergency text message would be sent in the event of a widespread disaster, severe weather or child abduction.
￼The system would send text messages to Americans when an emergency occurs.
The FCC said cell phone companies that voluntarily opt into the system would send text-based alert messages to subscribers in response to three types of events:
A disaster that could jeopardize the health and safety of Americans, such as a terrorist attack; these would trigger a national alert from the president of the United States
Imminent or ongoing threats such as hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes
Child abductions or Amber alerts.
T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint Nextel and AT&T all stated that they would be likely to opt into the alert system if it is passed by the FCC.
"While we obviously need to review the details of the FCC's decision, we look forward to offering mobile emergency alerts to our customers," AT&T said in a written statement.
That’s what we have in San Diego County where I live and it was put to work quickly last fall during the 2007 firestorm season. While there were some minor glitches in the notification system (a couple of neighborhoods were told to evacuate earlier than was necessary) the use of Reverse 911 during the 2007 Fire season is a text book example of how useful some technologies can be in disasters.
I was directly effected by the Witch Creek Fire. We lost several homes on my street when the fire came roaring through the nearby adjoining city of Ramona, CA. Rather than wait for the “official evacuation notification.” I started collecting my gear as soon as I could see flames cresting the hill that separates my place from Ramona.
The “evacuate now” order came late in the afternoon the next day. By phone.
I loaded my two useless cats in their cages, hooked up my dog and installed him on my front passenger seat and drove by my two elderly neighbors to make sure they were packed and ready to go and had transportation.
Adding emergency text message notification to the system is the next logical step. But before that happens nationwide cell networks are going to need to become a lot smarter. A whole lot smarter.
One of the problems I foresee is with yahoos like me. My cell phone is a 650 area code number, but I live 400 miles south of Silicon Valley in the 760 area code. Now that cell networks support GPS, it doesn’t seem like too much of a technological stretch to assume that me cell network knows I’m in the 760 area code and any emergency information relative to the specific area is something I need to be aware of.
There are some other baby steps that can be taken to cover the ground needed to keep the citizenry informed. While I personally don’t like the social media messaging application Teitter. I believe regional emergency Twitter URL’s could be an important information dissemination channel.
Observationally, the one thing local electronic and print media and local government could have done much better here in North San Diego County during the Witch Creek Fire, was provide better communications to local residents including electronic maps of road closures. More than 500,000 people in my county were told to leave their homes in the last Fire storm. Most of us ended up in emergency shelters. And the one thing that was in real short supply was real time information.
National emergency text messaging is a great first step. The next logical move for it is at the regional, county and city-level.--Jim Forbes 04/09/2008
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