Senate Passes Legislation to Improve Emergency Alerts
The US Senate unanimously passed the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement (READI) Act on Dec. 17. The bipartisan legislation, which Sens. Brian Schatz, John Thune, and Roger Wicker introduced, aims to ensure that more people receive emergency alerts on their mobile phones, televisions, and radios. The legislation will also explore new ways of alerting the public through online video and audio streaming services, track and study false alerts, and improve emergency alert planning at the state level.
“When a missile alert went out across Hawai‘i in January, some people never got the message on their phones, while others missed it on their TVs and radios. Even though it was a false alarm, the missile alert highlighted real ways we can improve the way people receive emergency alerts,” Sen. Schatz said. “Our bill fixes some of these issues and will help make sure that in an emergency, the public gets the right information they need as quickly as possible.”
According to Schatzʻs communications director, the Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alert System ensure that the public quickly receives emergency alerts from federal, state, tribal, and local governments over the radio, television, and mobile wireless devices. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administers the platform government agencies use to create alerts, while the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) oversees the systems used to distribute the alerts over broadcast and mobile wireless networks.
“The READI Act will ensure more Americans receive life saving information during emergencies ranging from natural disasters to terrorist attacks,” Sen. Wicker said. “Importantly, this bill will also address the problem of false alerts, which deteriorate public confidence in the emergency alert system. I am proud to have worked with Senators Schatz and Thune on this important legislation to protect the American people.”
The READI Act would:
- Ensure more people receive emergency alerts by eliminating the option to opt out of receiving certain federal alerts, including missile alerts, on mobile phones;
- Require active alerts issued by the President or FEMA to be repeated. Currently, alerts on TV or radio may only be played once;
- Explore updating the system to offer emergency alerts over the internet, including audio and video online streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify;
- Encourage State Emergency Communications Committees to periodically review and update their State Emergency Alert System Plans;
- Compel FEMA to create best practices for state, tribal, and local governments to use for issuing alerts, avoiding false alerts, and retracting false alerts if they occur, as well as for alert origination training and plans for officials to contact each other and federal officials during emergencies; and
- Establish a reporting system for false alerts so the FCC can track when they occur and examine their causes.
In addition to the READI Act, Senator Schatz introduced the ALERT Act earlier this year. The legislation, which passed the Senate in June, would give the federal government the primary responsibility of alerting the public of a missile threat.