New alert system gives president special code for emergency messages

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New alert system gives president special code for emergency messagesThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is looking to overhaul the Emergency Alert System so the president can speak to the country at the flip of a switch in the event of a nationwide emergency.

The national Emergency Alert System broadcasts television alert messages to warn people about immediate dangers. The system is often used at the local level to warn people about weather conditions such as tornadoes or flash floods.

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The system is not capable of reaching the entire country all at once should the president need to warn the public of something like a terrorist attack or an act of war against the country. Instead, to reach the entire country, each local jurisdiction would have to broadcast the same message — a tedious process that could leave room for gaps if one station misses the broadcast.

So the FCC is proposing a national location code that would give the president the ability to broadcast to the entire country with a single message in the event of a nationwide emergency. The proposal will be published in Tuesday's edition of the Federal Register.

The FCC says the update will help with "saving human lives, reducing injuries, mitigating property damage, and minimizing the disruption of the national economy." 

The changes would not only allow the warning system to reach a larger audience but also make it more accessible to people with disabilities, such as those who are deaf.

In addition to the audio warnings, these alerts also issue "visual crawlers," or text that runs across the top of the TV screen, so deaf people can read the warnings.

Critics have complained that the text, in some cases, goes by too quickly for deaf people to read. So the FCC is also looking to establish new rules that would slow down the text to make the alerts more readable. 

The updates would also require broadcasters to file test results electronically with the FCC.

The FCC estimates all of these changes would cost the industry between $7 million and $13.6 million in compliance costs.

The public has 30 days to comment on the proposed rules.