FCC Planning Mobile Phone Emergency Broadcast System

Attention: this is a test of the emergency broadcast system.  This is only a test...on your smart phone.

The FCC is planning to export the ubiquitous Emergency Alert System (EAS) to an Android, iPhone, or Sprint phone near you, according to Mobiledia report.

PLAN, or Personalized Localized Alerting Network, would send out alerts about natural disasters, missing children or grave messages from the President to specially designed smart phones--not unlike what colleges and universities already do for their students when campuses are on lockdown.

"This is the ability to have your mobile device be an emergency alert device," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement in March 2011. "Government officials can send alerts in the event of natural disasters, can do it on a localized basis, and make sure alerts get through even if there is network congestion."

New York and D.C. will get their first crack at the new system as pilot projects are rolled out in the two cities later this year.  If successful, the FCC has plans to take PLAN nationwide--allowing the government to reach over 100 million smart phone users in the wake of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

Terrorism was very much on the mind of Genachowski, as he announced the project to a gathering of government officials, journalists, and dignitaries in front of the 9/11 Memorial in New York City last year--a solemn reminder of the consequences that come with not having such an alert system.

With the announcement of PLAN, the FCC joins the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Homeland Security, and dozens of other government and private companies like Google that are already providing alerts to users on a variety of laptops, iPads and other devices. Google, for example, is already launching what it dubs a 'Public Alerts' page, integrating feeds from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Geological Survey, and other agencies.

Yet mobile alerts are far from perfect.  A test of Verizon's CMAS system caused a panic when the system falsely warned of a 'civil emergency,’ sending New Jersey residents scrambling for cover despite the fact that it was only a test. Verizon later apologized for the error, describing it as an 'inconvenience.’


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