Public safety leaders pause for thought when it comes to implementing wireless emergency alerts (WEAs). According to a Recode report, WEA alerts — currently limited to 90 characters — are often inaccurate, and can cause undue panic at difficult times. Over-alerting has resulted in a trend in smartphone owners turning off these emergency alerts, which reduces the ability to communicate in times of emergencies and disasters.
Some communities in emergencies have failed to use the WEA system.
Last month, the Federal Communications Commission voted to adopt new rules that require telecommunications companies to distribute WEAs more precisely by the end of 2019, but some fear the timeline isn’t doable.
The WEA system is voluntary, but companies that take part in the program will be required to deliver wireless alerts to everyone within a local government’s target area — with only a 0.1-mile overshoot. The new requirement goes into effect on Nov. 30, 2019. Also, the carriers must support Spanish-language WEA alerts by May 1, 2019 and allow up to 360 characters in alert messages.
New York City officials have raised concerns that WEA alerts are out of date, and that multimedia capabilities are needed. The Manhattan bombing suspect in 2016, though apprehended, is one example. The city’s alert on the suspect at large could not include a picture.
Listen to a Prep Talk Podcast on WEAs by the NYC Emergency Management Agency: