The Commission released a NPRM seeking to strengthen the Commission’s Wireless Emergency Alerts (“WEA”).  The proposed revisions to the Commission’s rules are designed to improve the clarity of WEA messages, to ensure that WEA alerts reach only those individuals to whom WEA alerts are relevant, and to establish a WEA testing program that will improve the effectiveness of the system for public safety officials and the public.  WEA alerts have been used to issue timely and accurate emergency alerts, including severe weather warnings, evacuate and shelter-in place alerts, and America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) Alerts.

The Commission’s proposed generally reforms fall into three categories: (1) improving the effectiveness of WEA message content, (2) improving geo-targeting, and (3) facilitating testing and proficiency.  The Commission seeks comment on the following proposals, as well as on the costs and benefits associated with the proposals outlined below.

Improving Message Content: The Commission proposes:

  • to expand the maximum character length of WEA messages from 90 (the current limitation) to 360 characters, or another appropriate number of characters necessary to provide the public with sufficiently detailed information about the emergency situations that WEA is designed to address, and to encourage swift and effective public action in response to such emergencies;
  • to create of a new class of WEA alerts  — “Emergency Government Information” — in order to provide an additional mechanism for critical communications between alert originators and their communities, and;
  • to remove the Commission’s prohibition on embedded references to allow the provision of phone numbers and URLs in WEA messages.  The Commission also asks whether it is technically feasible to supplement WEA alerts with multimedia (such as high-information maps), and to provide WEA alerts in languages other than English.

Improving Geo-Targeting: The Commission proposes:

  • to require Participating Commercial Mobile Service (CMS) Providers to distribute WEA messages to geographic areas that more accurately match the target area specified by the alert originator,
  • implementing a device-based geo-targeting solutions, or other approaches to improve geo-targeting and;  
  • to require that Participating CMS Providers must transmit any alert message that is specified by a geocode, circle, or polygon to a target area not larger than the specified geocode, circle, or polygon.  If such a requirement is infeasible, the Commission proposes to require the Participating CMS Provider to transmit an Alert Message to an area that closely approximates the target area, but in any case not exceeding the propagation area of a single transmission site.

Facilitating Testing and Proficiency:  The Commission seeks comment on:

  • requirements and procedures to facilitate state and local WEA testing and proficiency training;
    • The Commission also asks about liability protection for State/Local WEA Testing. Specifically it “believe[s] that liability protection would reasonably extend to Participating CMS Provider engagement in State/Local WEA Testing as proposed” in the NPRM.
  • establishing procedures for logging and reporting requirements for Participating CMS Provider Alert Gateways;
    • The NPRM proposes to require Participating CMS Provider Alert Gateways to: (1) provide a mechanism to log messages with time stamps and receipt/read verifications; (2) maintain an online log of active/cancelled alert messages for 90 days and archived logs for at least 36 months; and (3) generate monthly system and performance statistics reports.
    • Three alternative test reporting mechanisms proposed by the Commission include: third-party software using Application Programming Interfaces, informal communication among alert originators, and use of the Public Safety Help Center, and;
    • steps the Commission can take to promote participation in WEA by CMS Providers and by wireless customers. The Commission is seeking comment on different alternatives for displaying and receiving WEA messages, in order to reduce the likelihood that consumers will “opt-out” of the WEA as well as specific factors that would lead consumers to opt out of receiving WEA messages and steps the Commission can take to mitigate consumer opt-outs.

Other: Generally, the Commission seeks comment on:

  • whether it should allow transmission of the WEA Attention Signal as part of government-developed Public Safety Announcements (PSAs); and
  • whether WEA alerts should take priority over all mobile device activity except for certain voice and data sessions.

Implementation Timeline: The proposed timeline for specific implementation dates is as follows:

Implementation Timeline

Comments due: 30 days after publication in the Federal Register
Reply Comments due:  60 days after publication in the Federal Register

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