For some cell phone users, the first time that they found out about the government’s new alert system was when James Lee DiMaggio kidnapped 16-year-old Hannah Anderson. The alert system startled many California residents.
About the Wireless Emergency Alert System
The Wireless Emergency Alert, or WEA, system is a division of the government’s public safety network. It was launched in April of 2012, and since its introduction, carriers have been implementing the program to different phones and regions throughout the country. When an emergency occurs, the system will automatically alert the owners of certain wireless phones. The system also notifies people who have other types of mobile devices such as tablets.
How Does the Government Alert System Work?
Once state or local governments become preauthorized, they can deliver emergency alerts to people in their area. For instance, local officials can send out orders to evacuate a location. They can also notify residents about a terrorist threat. Officials contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to issue the alert through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, which has connections to participating wireless carriers. Wireless providers then send the alerts through cell towers to mobile devices in the region. When wireless device users see the message, it will display like a text. The notifications are different from the Short Message Service, or SMS, as they are not delayed by network traffic. However, the SMS system is less intrusive.
The government is using the WEA system to notify citizens of disasters like floods, toxic spills or fires. In addition, officials use the network to send out Amber Alerts, but they only use it for the most ominous child abduction incidents. According to the director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Amber Alerts have assisted in the safe return of 656 abducted children throughout the country. However, for the alerts to be effective, people must see or hear them.
What is the Public’s Opinion of the Alert System?
After California sent out the alert for Hannah Anderson, many people were annoyed. They reported that the messaging system was noisy and intrusive. They also claimed that the text left their messaging screen too quickly for them to assess the situation and that the alert repeated the message too many times. Some people are threatening to remove their phone from the alert, but California officials are asking them not to because the rescue of the 16-year-old proves the successfulness of the program.
This fall, California’s local government will be assessing the alert system to confirm that it is working properly. In addition, they may make a few minor changes to address consumer complaints. They also intend to create a support campaign for the program to highlight its benefits.
Improving the System
The government could make the program better by emitting different tones for different kinds of alerts. Furthermore, most people would appreciate an update on an emergency situation. The system could be more precise and narrow the messages down to neighborhoods or even a building. In addition, a referral website with detailed information would be helpful. It will be unfortunate if people choose to opt out of the alerts because when more eyes search for kidnapped victims, rescues are more likely to happen.