Specifically, the Commercial Mobile Alert Services Advisory, born out of the Warning Alert Response Network Act (WARN Act) to facilitate the wireless devices such as cell phones to adopt alerting technologies. The Federal Communications Commission took a number of steps in facilitating the ability of consumers to receive emergency alerts through their wireless phones. In 2008, the Commission issued a series of orders adopting requirements for a Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), a system by which commercial mobile service (CMS) providers may transmit emergency alerts to their subscribers.
A Consumer Electronics Association industry-working group (R6 WG16 Fixed and Mobile Alert Warning Devices) has been established to provide best practices and guidelines receive Common Alert Protocol (CAP) alert data and use on fixed and mobile consumer electronics devices.
FM radio-based alert system diagram Click image to enlarge.
As officials and the public consider alternatives to cellular voice calls, text messaging is frequently discussed as a safe alternative during emergencies. Text messaging, including applications based on Short Message Service protocol, is its own worst enemy during a perceived or real emergency. Network overload and inoperability are problematic, and there is a security issue due to the dependence on Internet connectivity to interconnect the communications channel.
The cell network infrastructure is vulnerable, connected to a maze of landline telephone switches, and encryption is not supported all the way to the wireless receiver. In comparison, FM radio-based alert systems use a dedicated satellite and secured channels so there is no possibility of public access to the network. In a crisis, these systems have a guaranteed channel that offers protective umbrella coverage for certified command and controlled messages to be delivered with a guaranteed source and encryption all the way to the receiver. Satellite coverage is essential to bridge the post-disaster communications breakdown that occurs after every significant hurricane or earthquake.
As broadcasters remain on the front lines of providing emergency information to their audiences, it is exciting for stations to be a part of the existing EAS, as well as new initiatives designed to provide a more comprehensive solution for emergency communication.
Straeb is executive vice president of Global Security Systems, Jackson, MS.
For an update on current FEMA IPAWS projects, visit www.fema.gov/emergency/ipaws/systemenhancements.shtm