US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s Bill on Emergency Alert Systems Readiness Passed the House

November 18, 2020, 9:55 AM HST · Updated November 18, 10:03 AM
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PC: Tulsi Gabbard 2020 / [email protected]

The Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement (READI) Act, a bill reintroduced in March by US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) and three other representatives, passed the House by voice vote Tuesday and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Gabbard re-introduced H.R.6096 in March with Reps. Jerry McNerney (CA-09), Gus Bilirakis (FL-12), and Pete Olson (TX-22).

“The January 2018 false missile alert crisis we endured in Hawai‘i revealed deep vulnerabilities within our warning system infrastructure,” Rep. Gabbard said. “Given our location as a state and the threats we are exposed to, our warning system must be current, functional and able to communicate accurate information to people across all available platforms.”

The READI Act requires states to keep their Emergency Alert System Plans tested and up to date, and it requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create best practices for state and local governments.

“It ensures more people are reached by removing the opt-out feature for emergency alerts on mobile phones and brings us into the 21st Century by meeting consumers in new digital spaces like online streaming services,” Rep. Gabbard said.

The READI Act has bipartisan, bicameral support and was included in the Senate version of the 2021 national defense authorization bill earlier this year. There are efforts to include the bill in the final version of the annual defense bill, which is being considered by Congress this month.

The READI Act:

  • Requires State Emergency Communications Committees to periodically review and update their State Emergency Alert System (EAS) Plans, which are often out of date.
  • Directs Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide guidance to state, tribal and local governments on issuing alerts (including the initiation, modification, and cancellation of alerts) and on training and certification of alerting officials, among other things.
  • Establishes a reporting system for false alerts so that the FCC can track when they occur and examine their causes.
  • Ensures that more people receive emergency alerts by eliminating the option to opt out of receiving certain federal alerts on mobile phones.
  • Requires active alerts issued by the President or FEMA to be repeated. Currently alerts on TV or radio may only be played once.
  • Explores the feasibility of providing emergency alerts to the public through online audio and video streaming services.

In the 115th Congress, Rep. Gabbard and former Rep. Colleen Hanabusa introduced the READI Act  and urged Congress to pass the bill. Earlier that year, an emergency alert indicating an inbound, ballistic missile threat — later determined to be false alarm — raised concerns across the state. Rep. Gabbard called for accountability as well as renewed diplomatic efforts to address the nuclear threat by North Korea.

In the aftermath of the missile threat false alert, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard introduced several related measures including:

  • The Civil Defense Accountability Act of 2018 (H.R. 4949) that would improve accountability by ensuring transparent investigations and disclosure into the incident and establish best practices to strengthen state and national preparedness and disaster communications plans, among other measures.
  • The Civil Defense Preparedness Act of 2018 (H.R. 5399) would expand existing Department of Homeland Security (DHS) terrorism and catastrophic event grant programs to include improving nuclear, biological, and chemical attack preparedness.
  • The Authenticating Local Emergencies and Real Threats (ALERT) Act of 2018 (H.R. 4965) would improve the emergency alert system and give the federal government the primary responsibility of alerting the public of a missile threat.

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