The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently proposed rules to improve the way the public receives emergency alerts on their mobile phones, televisions, and radios.
The nation’s Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alerts help keep the public safe and informed and are of ever-increasing importance given the emergencies and disasters Americans have faced in recent years.
In 2018, however, a false emergency alert in Hawaii mistakenly warned of an incoming ballistic missile and highlighted the need to improve these systems. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 subsequently charged the Commission with adopting rules to strengthen emergency alerting in various areas. Consistent with this directive, the Commission has adopted a Notice Proposed Rulemaking to ensure that more people receive relevant emergency alerts, enable government agencies to report false alerts when they occur, and improve the way states plan for emergency alerts.
Specifically, the Commission proposed to
- Combine the current “Presidential Alerts” category, which is non-optional on devices that receive Wireless Emergency Alerts, with alerts from the FEMA Administrator. The new non-optional alert class would be called “National Alerts.”
- Encourage all states to form State Emergency Communications Committees, which help administer alerting on the state level, or to review the composition and governance of existing committees, as well as require these committees to certify that they held a meeting in the past year.
- Provide a checklist of information that should be included in annual submissions of state Emergency Alert System plans and amend the process for Commission review of those plans.
- Specify that government agencies may report false emergency alerts to the FCC’s 24/7 Operations Center.
- Require and ensure that Emergency Alert System participants can repeat certain alerts over television and radio when the government alert originator requests it.
Also consistent with the new legislation, the Commission adopted a Notice of Inquiry to explore the technical feasibility delivering Emergency Alert System alerts through the Internet, including streaming services, and whether it is feasible for Emergency Alert System participants to leverage the Internet to offer advanced alerting capabilities to the public.
Interested parties may file comments by accessing the Electronic Comment Filing System at https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings. All filings must reference PS Docket Nos. 15-91 and 15-94.
Notice of Inquiry (NOI) Comments Due: May 14, 2021
NOI Reply Comments Due: June 14, 2021
For more information about EAS, please visit: www.fcc.gov/general/emergency-alert-system-eas-0. To learn more about the Commission’s accessibility requirements for EAS, please visit: www.fcc.gov/eas-faq-accessibility. For specific questions, please contact James Wiley, Attorney Advisor, Public Safety and Homeland Security, Cybersecurity and Communications Reliability Division, at 202-418-1678 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Individuals who use videophones and are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) may call the FCC’s ASL Consumer Support Line at (844) 432-2275 (videophone).