Mr. Ed Emmett has first-hand experience about WEA and what it can do.
A county judge from Harris County, Texas, Emmett saw emergency officials put the nation’s Wireless Alert System to work for the first time during Hurricane Harvey, a storm that caused $23 billion worth of property damage in Harris and Galveston counties.
Now, he said in a recent FCC filing, the time has come for the Federal Communications Commission to adopt additional enhancements — namely, enhanced geo-targeting capabilities — for WEA.
In a locale like Harris County, the third most populous county in the nation with more than four million people, geo-targeting is vital to reach residents who are spread out across more than 1,770 square miles, he said.
It’s also important that the FCC stick to the 2019 date proposed by the commission as a deadline for implementing geo-targeting capabilities, Emmett said.
“In Harris County and across the nation, the need for a precise system of communicating life-saving information is critical,” he said. “The longer it takes to improve geo-targeted alerts, the more lives are potentially put at risk.”
Other public agencies are pressing the commission to stick fast to that 2019 deadline too. The emergency service administrator for the City of Riverside Office of Emergency Management said that the 2019 timeline should be doable with current software update schedules.
“The May 2019 deadline is a must. The time to act is now,” said Mark Annas, emergency services administrator. “It is understandable that software may need changes, but we have been talking about this for three plus years. There is more than enough time to implement changes needed to implement this solution.
The proposal is calling for enhanced geo-targeting requirement to go into effect Nov. 30, 2019, while support for Spanish-language alert messages and 360-character messages would go into effect by May 1, 2019.
“Delaying this further will put communities at risk of further loss of life associated with lack of ability to alert those who need to act on the alert information,” Annas said.
Other groups are pressing the FCC to be more specific about deadline language. APCO International, an organization of public safety communications professionals, recommended specific language that would clarify the obligations of wireless companies.
The group suggested that there be limits on the ways that a wireless provider can opt out of delivering an alert, that the new rules apply to both new mobile devices and existing devices that are upgradable, and that wireless providers be required to submit a report to the commission listing those devices that are capable of being upgraded to new geo-targeting rules.
Comments can be submitted at the FCC ECFS database using Docket 15-91.