FCC approves improvements to Wireless Emergency Alerts

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WANE) The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday adopted rules that will vastly improve the capabilities of Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) which provide weather alerts, Amber Alerts and other critical warnings to people via their cell phones.

Example of a Wireless Emergency Alert on an iPhone 5 (AT&T/NWS).
Example of a Wireless Emergency Alert on an iPhone 5 (AT&T/NWS).

The WEA was launched in 2012, however it’s currently limited to 90 characters, which limits the ability to include important information such as specific locations or descriptions of missing children. The update will expand that limit to 360 characters. Also, participating wireless providers will be able to include embedded phone numbers and URLs will will allow the public to quickly dial a number or see a photo.

Some of the other improvements include:

  • Require participating wireless providers to deliver the alerts to more granular geographic
    areas, meaning the alerts should reach only the people for which they are relevant
  • Create a new class of alerts (“Public Safety Messages”) to convey essential
    recommended actions that can save lives or property (e.g. emergency shelter locations or
    a boil water order)
  • Require participating wireless providers to support transmission of Spanish-language
  • Make it easier for state and local authorities to test WEA, train personnel, and raise
    public awareness about the service

The FCC is also proposing additional improvements to WEA, including the ability to send multilingual alert content in addition to Spanish.