FCC Will Revamp Warning System

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The Federal Communications Commission has unveiled a plan to turn broadcasters’ Emergency Alert System from a Cold War relic into a digital-age defense against terrorist attacks and other catastrophes.

Commissioners announced a broad strategy to revamp the EAS and fix defects exposed by the 2001 terrorist attacks and recent local disasters.

Ultimately, the regulators are seeking to require that all broadcasters relay local alerts via an always-on digital version of today’s system. They envision a day when interactive DTV links could deliver evacuation routes in a local disaster, for example, to Web sites or even to cellphones and other wireless devices. Citizens could ideally access alerts away from home or receive wakeup warning calls.

The top goal is give the public better information about pending storms, toxic threats, medical facilities and evacuation routes during local emergencies, a component that has been an afterthought to most emergency planners since the system was conceived in the 1950s.

EAS has "fallen into disarray and needs major reform," FCC Chairman Michael Powell proclaimed last week. Even during the 9/11 attacks, EAS was not activated.

The FCC also wants suggestions on how new digital technology can bring improvements to the system. For instance, DTV alerts could provide interactive links to evacuation maps or other instructions. The commissioner is also examining whether emergency alerts can be provided to cellphones and other new wireless devices, providing means for warning citizens when they are away from home or have turned off the TV.

For more on the FCC's emergency plans, check out the Aug. 16 edition of Broadcasting & Cable.

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