FCC approves national mobile alert system

Published 11 April 2008

U.S. wireless carriers will transmit to their subscribers alert and emergency messages during disasters; carriers will transmit text-based alerts to their subscribers; as technology evolves, the CMAS may eventually include audio and video services to transmit emergency alerts to the public

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted a First Report and Order (Order) which will support the ability of the nation’s wireless carriers to transmit timely and accurate alerts, warnings, and critical information to the cell phones and other mobile devices of consumers during disasters or other emergencies. In compliance with the Warning, Alert and Response Network Act (WARN Act), the FCC’s order adopts relevant technical requirements based on the recommendations of the Commercial Mobile Service Alert Advisory Committee (CMSAAC) for the transmission of such emergency messages to the public. During emergencies, Americans increasingly rely on wireless telecommunications services and devices to receive critical, time-sensitive information. Once fully implemented, the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) will help ensure that Americans who subscribe to participating wireless services receive emergency alerts when there is a disaster or emergency that may impact their lives or well-being.

Wireless carriers that choose to participate in the CMAS will transmit text-based alerts to their subscribers. As technology evolves, the CMAS may eventually include audio and video services to transmit emergency alerts to the public. To ensure that people with disabilities who subscribe to wireless services receive these emergency alerts, the FCC adopted rules which will require wireless carriers which participate in the CMAS to transmit messages with both vibration cadence and audio attention signals. Consumers can expect to receive three types of messages via their cell phones and other mobile devices from participating wireless carriers, including:

* Presidential Alerts — national emergency-related alerts delivered to the American public that would preempt any other pending alerts

* Imminent Threat Alerts — alerts with information on emergencies that may pose an imminent risk to people’s lives or well-being

* Child Abduction Emergency/AMBER Alerts — alerts related to missing or endangered children due to an abduction or runaway situation.

Under the CMAS, subscribers to wireless services with roaming agreements will receive timely alerts, provided the subscriber’s mobile device is configured for, and technically capable of, receiving such emergency alerts from the network they are roaming on. Participating wireless carriers will be required to comply with the rules adopted in the Order today within ten months from the date of announcement that a Federal agency has been designated to collect and transmit the alerts to the wireless carriers.