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FCC To Require Emergency Mobile Alerts To Be More Location-Precise

FCC To Require Emergency Mobile Alerts To Be More Location-Precise

During a recent meeting it convened just this week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had granted its approval on a new measure that should ensure that all text messages sent via the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system to mobile devices be more geographically accurate, and should only be received by people affected by the crisis or natural disaster.

Past cases have shown that authorities are often reluctant in sending out mobile alerts because the texts were sometimes being deployed over a very broad geographical area, one that often includes users not necessarily impacted by the alerts being sent. The result is that users get warnings that not only are useless and irrelevant, but also potentially confusing. As further explained by Ajit Pai, the current chairman of the FCC, overbroad alert deployment can also cause unnecessary network congestion and can even lead to call centers getting inundated.

The FCC was compelled to hold a meeting this week because of what happened in Hawaii. Earlier this month, a mobile alert was issued throughout the Aloha State, warning of an incoming ballistic missile attack. It had turned out to be a false alarm, but because the alert was not corrected until over half an hour later, it had already caused panic among Hawaii’s general populace.

Based on the preliminary results of an investigation, officials from the FCC ruled that the Hawaii false alarm came to be because of a combination of simple human error, and insufficiently designed interfaces. What happened was that a Hawaii official had misunderstood instructions from an unscheduled drill, and proceeded to broadcast a warning to the public. But because of the poorly designed interface, the state was not able to quickly rectify the situation, which worsened the panic.

While it is true that what happened in Hawaii was an unfortunate series of events, it certainly did well in making people become more aware of the need to upgrade the nation’s current WEA system. Sure, the FCC was already making efforts to push for new enhancements even before the Hawaii blunder, but recent developments should help in expediting things. 

Apart from requiring all mobile alerts to be more geographically accurate in their deployment, the FCC is also working to have all messages be sent in multiple languages. Also, the length of the texts should be increased from 90 characters to 360 characters, and the messages should come with support for displaying multimedia and even hyperlinks. According to the agency, these changes should start to be implemented by May of next year.