The Federal Communications Commission will requiresent to cell phones during a crisis to be more geographically precise.
At its meeting Tuesday, the agency approved an item ensuring that when wireless providers send messages through the Wireless Emergency Alert system, the alerts are more targeted to individuals affected by the natural disaster or crisis in question.
In some cases, authorities have been reluctant to issue alerts because the messages were being broadcast over a wider area than necessary. These officials said they didn't want to warn people for no reason or inundate them with irrelevant alerts.
"Overbroad alerting can cause public confusion, lead some to opt out of receiving alerts altogether, and, in many instances, complicate rescue efforts by unnecessarily causing traffic congestion and overloading call centers," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said.
The system update arrives as the nation's emergency alert setup receives increased scrutiny. Earlier this month, an official in Hawaii mistakenly warned millions of people about an incoming ballistic missile, causing widespread panic. The false alert wasn't corrected for 38 minutes.
At Tuesday's meeting, FCC officials alsothat points to a mix of human error and poorly designed interfaces as the cause of the incident. The person responsible for the alert misinterpreted instructions and thought the alert was real. The FCC's inquiry is still ongoing.
The commission's effort to make the wireless emergency alerts more geographically precise began before the Hawaii mishap. The FCC considered the item at the urging of California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, who told the commission that some local authorities in their state were reluctant to send out alerts during last year's deadly wildfires.
The FCC also adopted updates to the system in 2016 that require carriers to let messages be sent in multiple languages. It also increased the character limit for messages from 90 to 360. And messages will be able to support hyperlinks and multimedia. Those changes won't take effect until May 2019.
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