by CIO Staff

DHS to Send Emergency Alerts to Cells, Handhelds

Jul 12, 20063 mins
MobileSmall and Medium Business

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), will soon begin transmitting emergency alert warnings via cell phones, handhelds and websites, the Associated Press reports via

The system will be an upgrade to the emergency alert system developed during the Cold War to warn Americans of potential nuclear attacks, but the new system will likely be employed to alert Americans of natural disasters or terrorist strikes, according to the AP.

DHS plans to have the system operational by the end of 2007, and though it’s still in early testing stages, the system is to be demonstrated at a public television station in suburban Virginia on Wednesday, the AP reports.

FEMA is working with the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) to develop a reliable system for sending the alerts to networks that support wireless devices and cable television transmissions, as well as satellite and traditional radio broadcasts, according to the AP.

Aaron Walker, a DHS spokesman, said on Tuesday, “Anything that can receive a text message will receive the alert. We find that the new digital system is more secure, it’s faster, and it enables us to reach a wide array of citizens and alert them to pending disasters,” according to the AP.

Only President Bush has the authority to declare a national emergency alert, the AP reports, and it was he who last month ordered the Homeland Security department to expand the current usages of the national alert system to include “situations of war, terrorist attack, natural disaster or other hazards to public safety and well-being.”

APTS President John Lawson told the AP that public TV stations have already come up with $1.1 billion to update the technology at 176 stations so that they can receive the new alerts. The federal government provided about a third of that $1.1 billion, according to the AP.

The system will cost roughly $5.5 million to vet and eventually launch, and about $1 million will be needed each year to maintain it, DHS’ Walker said, according to the AP.

The system has been undergoing tests since 2004 in the Washington area, and in early 2006, the test program was extended to 23 U.S. television stations, the AP reports.

People who don’t wish to receive alerts will have the option of opting out, according to the AP.

Check out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.