Industry, Public Safety Disagree on WEA Upgrade Timeline

TR Daily, January 4, 2018

The wireless industry and public safety entities disagree on how quickly carriers should deploy improved wireless emergency alert (WEA) geo-targeting capabilities, with the industry saying it needs 36 months to implement the upgrade and public safety entities calling on the FCC to mandate the improvements within 17 months. The FCC is expected to consider an order in the proceeding at its Jan. 30 meeting. 

In an ex parte filing last month in PS docket 15-91, CTIA laid out a proposed implementation plan for targeting wireless devices more precisely, excluding devices that are more than one-tenth of a mile from the target area. The trade group submitted the filing after industry and public safety representatives met with FCC staffers.

But CTIA said, “The industry parties believe that integration of new enhanced WEA geo-targeting capabilities into devices and networks will require no less than 36 months from the effective date of new FCC rules. The industry parties noted that, in the interim, existing WEA geo-targeting capabilities will continue to provide a meaningful level of geo-targeting in many emergency situations.”

But public safety groups and localities say that’s too slow and that the enhanced geo-targeting should be deployed by May 2019. Among entities recently submitting ex parties to support such a deadline are the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International; Harris County, Texas; San Diego and San Bernardino counties in California; and New York City.

“A 36-month implementation timeline is simply too long given the threat environment that local emergency management and public safety officials are operating in,” the New York City Emergency Management Department said in a recent filing.

“Failure to roll out improvements by May 2019 is irresponsible to the citizens that we are charged to serve and protect,” Harris County said in another filing. “It will erode the trust of wireless alert originators to send a timely, precise message when life or death may be on the line.”

In the wake of massive wildfires in California, Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D., Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) also have urged the Commission to promptly mandate precise geo-targeting, noting that WEA was not helpful in notifying residents of the fires due to a lack of such precise targeting (TR Daily, Oct. 17, 2017).

In 2016, the FCC adopted an order requiring the additional WEA capabilities while seeking comments on additional improvements, including more precise geo-targeting (TR Daily, Sept. 29, 2016).

In November (TR Daily, Nov. 2, 2017), FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the FCC “should be able to move forward soon on improving WEA’s capabilities for geo-targeting alerts more precisely. The FCC’s staff has been carefully studying the record compiled in response to last year’s NPRM, and I intend to provide my colleagues with a proposal for action in the near future.” —Paul Kirby,