Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and John Thune (R-SD) and Representatives Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Pete Olson (R-TX) reintroduced the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement (READI) Act. The bipartisan legislation would ensure more people receive relevant emergency alerts on their mobile phones, televisions, and radios.
“When a missile alert went out across Hawaii last year, 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 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.”
McNerney is tying the measure to the wildfires ravaging his home state, saying the, “fires demonstrate the need for having a robust, reliable, and widely-used Wireless Emergency Alert system.” The bill passed the Senate in the last Congress but failed to advance in the House. Lawmakers are now hoping for better results.
The Wireless Emergency Alert System and 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. FEMA administers the platform that local government agencies use to originate alerts, while the FCC oversees the systems used to distribute the alerts over mobile wireless and broadcast 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Communications Committees to periodically review and update their State Emergency Alert System Plans, which are often out of date;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.
The READI Act is supported by the Wireless Infrastructure Association, NCTA – The Internet and Television Association, the NAB and the Internet Association. CTIA commends lawmakers, “for their commitment to maintaining consumer confidence in Wireless Emergency Alerts,” said CTIA SVP/Government Affairs Kelly Cole. “WEAs are one of our most effective public alert warning tools, and we will continue to work with the public safety community and government officials to support their proven life-saving capabilities.”
“As America’s ‘first informers,’ local broadcasters support the legislation’s goal of improving accuracy and frequency of emergency alerts and strengthening coordination between federal and local authorities during times of disaster. We look forward to working with the bill’s cosponsors and their colleagues in Congress to improve upon the accuracy and reliability of emergency alerts,” said NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith.
October 29, 2019
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