Tuesday, May 10, 2011

FCC to launch new disaster alert addition with cellphone texts; better access for deaf people

From Technorati:

The Federal Communications Commission has announced the launch of a new cellphone notification system for major disaster alerts. How useful will it be to get text warnings for emergencies such as hurricanes and tornadoes?

Known as PLAN (Personal Localized Alerting Network) this system will add text messages to existing emergency alerts systems. This won't replace the TV and radio messages that you see already, but will add another way of warning as many people as possible of potential danger quickly and effectively.

So, for example, if there is a hurricane warning where you live and you don't hear about it on the TV or radio, then the government could, in the future, send you a text message alert. If, of course, your cellphone is PLAN enabled.

At the moment, not every cell can receive these kinds of geographically based texts and it will take some time to roll-out the system nationally (probably not until April 2012). Some phones already have a chip in place that will allow a simple software upgrade to enable alerts; some will not. It is likely in the future that carriers will have to advertise whether a cell is PLAN-ready or not.

So, will consumers accept the PLAN system? Some may feel wary of allowing the government direct access to their phones; others will be pleased to add another early warning system for emergencies. You will be able to opt out of some minor alerts but anything at a presidential level will come in whether you like it or not.

It's worth remembering that this kind of system can save lives. Japan has a similar text-based alert plan which was used during the recent disasters and that showed that a warning sent out even a few seconds in advance of an emergency can give people enough time to get to safety.