Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

FCC to Text Alerts by 2012

Wireless service providers will be able to send emergency text messages to cell phones during disasters through a new alert system set to launch in the District by the spring of next year.

The Personal Localized Alerting Network, established by the Federal Communications Commission in conjunction with several other federal agencies, will use a variety of mediums to notify participants of national and local emergencies.

University officials hope that PLAN can supplement Georgetown’s current emergency alert system, Hoya Alert.

“Our emergency response team continually reviews new tools for monitoring safety concerns,” Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh wrote in an email. “[We] will consider how this program could supplement our existing best practices in emergency communication.”

The PLAN service was approved by Congress in 2006 under the Warning, Alert and Response Network Act after a growing number of politicians became concerned about the best way to keep citizens informed in case of a crisis. Under the new system, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be able to receive and aggregate alerts from the president, the National Weather Service and other federal and local emergency operations centers. The service will then send them on to wireless providers and public television stations to be broadcasted to the public. The aggregating alerts process will try to prevent network congestion during cases of emergency.

“Communications technology — and in particular mobile broadband — has the potential to revolutionize emergency response,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a press release.” Our communications networks need to be reliable and resilient in times of emergency. The FCC is working with carriers to ensure that they are.”

Participants can expect to receive three kinds of alerts: presidential alerts relating to terrorist attacks or other national emergencies, imminent threat alerts regarding weather emergencies where life or property is at risk and child abduction emergency alerts.

The alerts will also be geographically targeted. According to the FEMA website, a New York resident who was not in the area at the time of the event would not receive an alert, while a tourist who was visiting the city would.

PLAN is free, and wireless customers will be signed up automatically when their service provider opts in. Major carriers, including AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon have already adopted the service, allowing them to implement it in New York before the end of the year. All carriers are expected to participate in the service by April 2012.

The new system follows recent trend of text message communication between local and federal government officials and their constituents. D.C. residents can receive text message alerts from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority regarding disruptions in service, and in 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama announced his selection of vice presidential candidate via text message.

“We need to adapt to what the public is using and not make it fit traditional systems,” FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said at a press conference last week.

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