FCC Revamps Wireless Emergency Alert System

"We applaud the Federal Communication Commission for voting to approve changes to the Wireless Emergency Alert system, including expansion of the character limit from 90 to 360, support of embedded URLs and phone numbers, improved geotargeting, support of transmission of alerts in Spanish, and the creation of a new alert classification for public safety messages," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said after the FCC acted.

The Federal Communications Commission on Sept. 29 adopted rules to update and strengthen the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system used to deliver critical warnings and information to Americans on their cell phones, with the agency said the rules will promote the wider use and effectiveness of the service, especially for state and local authorities.

The rules will:

  • Increase the maximum length of WEA messages from 90 to 360 characters for 4G LTE and future networks
  • Require participating wireless providers to support inclusion of embedded phone numbers and URLs in all WEA alerts, including WEA AMBER alerts
  • Require participating providers to deliver the alerts to more granular geographic areas
  • Create a new "Public Safety Messages" class of alerts to convey essential, recommended actions that can save lives or property (for example, emergency shelter locations or a boil water order)
  • Require participating providers to support transmission of alerts in Spanish
  • Make it easier for state and local authorities to test WEA, train personnel, and raise public awareness about the service

The commission noted the public safety benefits of including thumbnail-sized photos and symbols in Wireless Emergency Alerts and, in a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, asked for comments on how to achieve this in public safety messages in particular.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, for one, welcomed the changes. "We applaud the Federal Communication Commission for voting to approve changes to the Wireless Emergency Alert system, including expansion of the character limit from 90 to 360, support of embedded URLs and phone numbers, improved geotargeting, support of transmission of alerts in Spanish, and the creation of a new alert classification for public safety messages," he said in a statement released after the FCC acted. "These new rules will improve our public safety officials' ability to send critical information to the public during an emergency. But there is still more work to do. We will continue to advocate for further improvements – supporting more languages, embedding photos and multimedia, and more accurate geotargeting for WEA messages – to ensure these alerts are as effective, efficient ,and life-saving as they have the potential to be."

WEA was launched in 2012. The new rules update the technical and procedural requirements FCC adopted for WEA in 2008.

For more information on WEA, visit www.fcc.gov/guides/wireless-emergency-alerts-wea.

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