FCC votes to improve delivery of emergency alerts

FCC votes to improve delivery of emergency alerts
© Greg Nash

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday voted to require wireless providers to deliver more geographically precise emergency alerts after a string of natural disasters.

Wireless services will now be required to deliver alerts to an entire geographic area designated by government officials that overlaps with their coverage networks. They will also be restricted from sending alerts more than 0.1 miles outside that area.

Officials say delivering more precise alerts will make them more effective because cell phone users will likely only see warnings that apply to them and take them more seriously. Supporters of the change say it will also encourage local authorities to use the alert system.

"Overbroad alerting can cause public confusion, lead some to opt out of receiving alerts altogether, and, in many instances, complicate rescue efforts by unnecessarily causing traffic congestion and overloading call centers," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.


The move also comes as the nation’s alert system is under scrutiny following a false missile alert in Hawaii earlier this month, which prompted an FCC investigation.

In that case, authorities in Hawaii sent out a false alert that a ballistic missile was headed to the island. The message sparked fear and confusion. Authorities did not send out a correction for almost 40 minutes.

The changes that passed Tuesday, though, were proposed before the false alarm in Hawaii.

Pai introduced it after California’s two Democratic senators, Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinYoung activists press for change in 2020 election The Hill's Morning Report — US strikes approved against Iran pulled back Democrats want White House hopefuls to cool it on Biden attacks MORE and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck The Memo: All eyes on faltering Biden ahead of first debate 2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the first Democratic showdown MORE, raised concerns about problems with how the system targets alerts after deadly wildfires in their state last year.

- Updated at 12:35 p.m.