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.

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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 FeinsteinFeinstein calls on Justice to push for release of Trump whistleblower report Senate Judiciary Committee requests consultation with admin on refugee admissions Trump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick MORE and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisWarren overtakes Biden in Iowa for first time: poll Iowa GOP swipes at 2020 Democrats' meat positions as candidates attend annual Steak Fry Warren avoids attacks while building momentum 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.