Maui News

Schatz Legislation Seeks to Improve the Way the Public Receives Emergency Alerts

December 4, 2020, 11:50 AM HST
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Bipartisan congressional negotiators released details of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which includes the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement Act.

The bipartisan legislation, introduced by US Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and John Thune (R-S.D.), seeks to ensure more people receive relevant emergency alerts on their mobile phones, televisions, and radios, explore new ways of alerting the public through online video and audio streaming services, track and study false alerts when they occur, and improve the way states plan for emergency alerts.

“When a missile alert went out across Hawai‘i in 2018, 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 highlighted real ways we can improve the way people get emergency alerts,” said Senator Schatz, lead Democrat on the Senate Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet Subcommittee.

“Our bill, which will soon become law, fixes some of these issues and will help make sure that in an emergency, the public gets the right information – on their phones, TVs, radios, and computers – as quickly as possible,” said Sen. Schatz.

The Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alerts 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.

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These announcements keep the public safe and informed and have ever-increasing importance in the wake of the emergencies and disasters Americans faced throughout 2020.  FEMA administers the platform government agencies use to originate alerts, while the FCC oversees the systems used to distribute the alerts over broadcast and mobile wireless networks.

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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 updating the system to offer emergency alerts over the internet, including 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; and
  • Establish a reporting system for false alerts so the FCC can track when they occur and examine their causes.

In addition to the READI Act, three bipartisan Schatz-led provisions were also included in the NDAA. They include:

  • The AMBER Alert Nationwide Act, which will expand the AMBER Alert system to include all U.S. territories;
  • The DIGIT Act, which will encourage and plan for the growth of internet-connect devices, known as the Internet of Things; and
  • The Deepfake Report Act, which will confront the rising threat of disinformation and deepfakes.

 

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