Monday, May 16, 2011

New York City rolls out accessible wireless emergency alerting system

From COAT:

On May 11, 2011, the FCC announced the roll-out of the Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN) and which includes accessibility for users with sensory disabilities. PLAN is a new public safety system that allows customers who own an enabled mobile device -- e.g., a wireless phone -- to receive geographically-targeted, text-like messages alerting them of imminent threats to safety, or emergency alerts, in their area.

PLAN is also known as the Commercial Mobile Alert System or CMAS. This system allows federal agencies to accept and aggregate alerts from the President of the United States, the National Weather Service (NWS) and emergency operations centers, and send the alerts to participating wireless providers who may distribute the alerts to their customers via text messages

The new technology ensures that emergency alerts will not get stuck in highly congested user areas, which can happen with standard mobile voice and texting services. Significantly, the "roll-out" of the PLAN cellular alert system includes a specific requirement that the alert signal be a distinctive vibration for those with hearing disabilities to recognize it as a cellular alert message, and a distinctive audible alert so that persons with vision disabilities recognize it as a Commercial Mobile Telephone Alert System (CMAS) alert message.

PLAN enables government officials to target emergency alerts to specific geographic areas through cell towers (e.g. lower Manhattan), which pushes the information to dedicated receivers in PLAN-enabled mobile devices.

By way of background, in 2006, the U.S. Congress passed the Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act requiring carriers that choose to participate to activate PLAN technology by a deadline determined by the FCC, which is April 2012. Participants that will offer PLAN at least two calendar quarters ahead of schedule in New York City are AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Ninety percent of New York subscribers who have a PLAN-capable mobile device in these cities will be able to receive PLAN alerts by the end of 2011.