Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D., Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) expressed concern today in the wake of the California wildfires about the limits of wireless emergency alerts (WEAs) and pressed the FCC to require geo-targeting of alerts. “Recent news reports have indicated that emergency services in Northern California were not able to transmit lifesaving WEA messages, because of significant technical deficiencies in the WEA system,” the senators said in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “Specifically, because the WEA system does not enable precise geotargeting — a feature that has been standard in mobile applications for years — emergency services cannot send an evacuation message without reaching a large number of unaffected residents. These emergency services are caught in a bind between notifying individuals in imminent danger and risking mass panic. As a result, these services are compelled to rely on emergency messaging systems with far less reach and far less capacity.”
The letter added, “In September 2016, the FCC proposed new rules that would require wireless carriers to enable precise geotargeting of WEA warnings. We are heartened that you and your colleagues voted in favor of that proposal. You even wrote separately in a concurring opinion, emphasizing the importance of geotargeted alerts. We are disappointed, though, that under your leadership the FCC has not executed on its proposal with a final rule. We are also concerned that the FCC has granted a temporary waiver of the existing, imprecise geotargeting requirements for certain carriers.”
The lawmakers posed a number of questions for Mr. Pai, asking for replies by Oct. 24.
“Have you solicited feedback from emergency services in Northern California about whether the WEA system is meeting their needs and what improvements are necessary? If you have, what feedback have you received? If you have not, will you commit to promptly seeking that feedback and informing us about what you learn?” they asked. They asked similar questions concerning first responders in areas impacted by recent hurricanes.
“Do you intend to proceed with the WEA rulemaking that the FCC initiated over a year ago? If you do, will you commit to expeditiously completing the rulemaking? If you do not, why not?” they asked. “Several technology vendors have taken the position that incorporating precise geolocation into the WEA system is technically infeasible or excessively burdensome. Our assessment, confirmed by experts we have consulted, is that these technical objections are unfounded. Have you evaluated the technical feasibility of incorporating precise geolocation into the WEA system, and if you have, what have you concluded?” —Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org