Five public safety and municipal groups urged the FCC today to mandate several wireless emergency alert (WEA) improvements by May 2019.
“As you are likely aware, the emergency management and public safety community have been working with the Federal Communications Commission and wireless industry partners on improving the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system to support the nation’s evolving emergency messaging needs. The requested enhancements include, improved geo-targeting, multimedia alerting, ‘many-to-one’ feedback, and multilingual alerting,” the groups said in a letter to FCC Commissioners submitted in PS docket 15-91. “All of the organizations that have signed on to this letter appreciate the efforts the Commission and the industry have taken thus far but write today, in light of recent emergencies, to underscore the critical need for these improvements to be instituted no later than May of 2019. Many of the requested enhancements have been under discussion for the last several years, some longer, and it is now time for action.”
The letter was signed by Big City Emergency Managers, the National Emergency Management Association, the International Association of Emergency Managers, the National Emergency Number Association, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Regarding device-based geo-targeting, the groups said, “The ability to geo-target WEA is a necessity for public safety to effectively protect its citizens. Phones are capable of precise geo-targeting today and WEA must have access to these capabilities. Without the ability to geo-target our alert originators will continue to use WEA sparingly or not at all. This is a shame. An effective WEA can literally mean the difference between life and death. We encourage you to establish a deadline to implement device-based geo-targeting no later than May of 2019. In conversations with the carriers it is clear that an accuracy of 1/10th of a mile is feasible.
“This is all doable given the software and technology that’s already in our hands,” the letter continued. “WEA-enabled devices already have the technology they need to add device-based discrimination. The wireless industry can update the software in the devices to incorporate existing features and functionality that will allow the device to use its location to decide if the device should display or not display the message.”
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). The FCC is expected to consider an order in the proceeding at its Jan. 30 meeting.
In particular, the wireless industry and public safety entities disagree on how quickly carriers should deploy improved 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 (TR Daily, Jan. 4).
In an ex parte filing last month, 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. 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.”
“The emergency management and public safety community and those we protect have been waiting too long for WEA improvements,” today’s letter to the FCC concluded. “In summary, please establish an implementation requirement no later than May 2019. Establishing this date provides the industry more than a year to implement solutions that have already been thoroughly discussed. Going beyond May 2019 puts our community at risk for more dry seasons (fire)/storm seasons (hurricanes) that claim lives. The time to act is now.”- Paul Kirby, email@example.com