The FCC Tuesday unveiled a mobile-device based emergency
alert system being rolled out in New York, with plans for a nationwide
implementation of the PLAN (Personal
Localized Alerting Network), which will send text-like messages to subs.
FEMA will aggregate the alerts from federal, state and local
governments and send them over a "secure interface" to wireless
providers, which will send them to customers.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski was in New
York Tuesday for the announcement of the service,
which will deliver geographically targeted alerts to customers of
AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, the top four wireless carriers.
The alerts, which will require specially enabled handsets,
will be ready to roll in New York
by the end of the year, with the rest of the nation following at least a
half-year later. That beats the April 2012 deployment date for a service set by
Congress, Verizon pointed out Tuesday.
"Communications technology - and in particular mobile
broadband - has the potential to revolutionize emergency response," said
FCC Chairman Genachowski.
"PLAN ensures that
emergency alerts will not get stalled by user congestion, which can happen with
standard mobile voice and texting services," the FCC said in
announcing the alert service. "Authorized government officials can send
messages, which participating wireless providers then push using their cell
towers to enabled mobile devices in a targeted geographic area."
The PLAN will also go by
another name: CMAS, or the Commercial Mobile Alert Service.
"Since the alerts are geographically targeted, they
will reach the right people, at the right time, with the right messages,"
The issue of companies tracking mobile cell phone
location information has been a big issue on Capitol Hill, including in a
Senate hearing Tuesday, but an FCC source speaking on background said the
service does not track location, but sends the alerts to subscribers in range
of the cell towers in an affected area.
Not surprisingly, the companies participating in the alerts
were celebrating the high-profile partnership.
"T-Mobile is proud to work with the FCC and FEMA to announce
the launch of a national emergency alerting service," said T-Mobile in a
statement. "[W]e will start making PLAN-enabled
devices available by this August, with the majority of our new handsets PLAN
capable in 2012," the company said, as will the other carriers.
"This project is a great example of the government and
private sectors coming together to accomplish something for the public good,"
said Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg, who said Verizon would also deploy the
service in Washington by year's
The system is another response to the communications
deficits on display during the 9/11 attacks.
"PLAN could make a
tremendous difference during disasters like the recent tornadoes in Alabama
where minutes - or even seconds - of extra warning could make the difference
between life and death." He has a shout out to TV and radio for their
emergency alert role, but suggested they needed help. "TV and radio will
continue to play an essential role in providing critical emergency
information," he said, "but a multi-platform alerting system will
give us the ability to get information to people wherever they are on whatever
device they are using at the time."
The National Association of Broadcasters, which has used
broadcasters' emergency information role in defending its spectrum against
reclamation for use by the above-mentioned wireless carriers--was not ready to
cede that ground.
"We're pleased that cell phone carriers plan to
live up to their promise to Congress five years ago to implement an emergency
alert messaging system," said NAB
spokesman Dennis Wharton. "However, when a cellular network goes down,
customers will still be unable to access these 90-character warnings. As was
evidenced in Alabama and other
parts of the South just two weeks ago, there is no communications system that
matches the life-saving immediacy of a local broadcast signal."