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Errant Missile Alert Prevention Bill Reintroduced

Would try to prevent repeat of Hawaiian panic attack

Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and John Thune (R-S.D.) have reintroduced the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement (READI) Act, which is meant to improve the emergency alert system and prevent its accidental triggering.

Among other things, the bill would allow broadcasters to repeat presidential and FEMA alerts, something they can’t do now.

The bill was introduced last year — and passed the Senate — in the wake of an inadvertent missile alert triggered in Hawaii during which some people did not receive the alert. “Even though it was a false alarm, the missile alert exposed real flaws in the way people receive emergency alerts,” said Schatz, Oct. 24, ranking member of the Communications Subcommittee.

FCC Investigating Missile False Alarm

Local officials in Hawaii inadvertently issued an incoming nuclear missile alert, leading to some panic and an FCC investigation into the incident.

“South Dakotans understand how drastically the weather can change on a dime,” said Thune, chairman of the subcommittee. “For that reason, among many others, this legislation would make necessary improvements to help keep South Dakotans and communities around the country safe in times of emergency.”

The bill would:

  1. “Ensure more people receive emergency alerts by eliminating the option to opt out of receiving certain federal alerts, including missile alerts, on mobile phones;”
  2. “Require active alerts issued by the president or FEMA to be repeated. Currently, alerts on TV or radio may only be played once;”
  3. “Explore establishing a system to offer emergency alerts to audio and video online streaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify;”
  4. “Encourage State Emergency Communications Committees to periodically review and update their state Emergency Alert System plans, which are often out of date;”
  5. “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
  6. “Establish a reporting system for false alerts so the FCC can track when they occur and examine their causes.”

A House version has also been introduced by Reps. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Pete Olson (R-Texas) and Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.).

“We applaud the leadership of Sens. Schatz and Thune and Reps. McNerney, Bilirakis, Gabbard and Olson for introduction of the READI Act of 2019 which develops guidance and best practices for how state and local governments can improve emergency alerts, particularly to address the issuance of false alerts,” said NCTA — The Internet & Television Association. “As participants in the nation’s emergency alert system, cable operators appreciate Congress’ efforts to improve coordination between federal and local authorities to ensure consumers receive accurate and relevant emergency and public safety information in their local communities.”