In California there are many types of disasters that can bedevil the state; Earthquakes, fires, mudslides, floods, terrorism — even tsunamis. What if you had the ability to be alerted within minutes, via your cell phone, when such an event occurred nearby? Would you sign up?
State and federal officials and representatives from the wireless industry say they are working to establish just such a voluntary system.
“You don’t need new technology to do this,” said Dr. Ramesh Rao, a professor of engineering at the University of California, San Diego. “Governments need to partner with [companies] because they are the ones that run the systems.”
The devastating Asian tsunami in December of 2005 led to calls oversees for authorities to include emergency text message alerts as part of a regional warning system. The idea being: target people in locations where disaster is likely to hit by sending out a message from nearby cell phone towers warning those in danger to get out of harms way.
In the United States, Congress passed the Warning, Alert, and Response Network (WARN) Act in October of 2006, that called for a similar system. The legislation came as a response to problems with the government’s emergency broadcast system’s limitations during Hurricane Katrina. At the time many survivors weren’t able to receive good information about evacuation routes. Also, with concerned relatives and friends calling their loved ones, wireless networks became congested. Often the best way to connect was by text message; the data places less demand on the system than voice calls. The WARN ACT spawned an advisory group that will meet for the third time later this month to discuss protocols and technical standards. Its recommendations to the Federal Communications Commission are due next October.
In California, after the Virginia Tech massacre last month Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi called for the creation of a statewide text message-based emergency alert system that would broadcast to all nearby students’ cell phones should a similar shooting take place at a California school. Garamendi said that two weeks ago he met with executives of the four major cell phone companies, and with representatives from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office, the Office of Emergency Services, and the Public Utilities Commission; All pledged to work together and the PUC agreed to take the lead at an upcoming meeting in June, Garamendi said. “The goal is to inform the federal process