Alerts & Notifications

Time to Speak Up about Changes in Wireless Emergency Alerts

Public safety practitioners have a chance to influence this important Wireless Emergency Alerts cell phone alerting system. The FCC is looking for comments on significant changes to WEA. Deadline: December 8.

by Rick Wimberly / November 17, 2016

If you want to have a say in how Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) operate, you’d better speak up. The FCC is accepting comments on significant changes to WEA, and the deadline is December 8. Of particular interest to public safety practitioners: geo-targeting of alerts, message content, consumer opt-out capability, and reporting.

FCC rules are highly reliant on the comments they receive and public safety practitioners are often underrepresented in FCC comments. This is a great opportunity to influence the direction of an important public safety system. (Go here to comment and go here to read a previous post.)

For example, practitioners have complained that geo-targeting by WEA is not specific enough. The new rules the FCC is proposing would require that the cell broadcast network that distributes WEA messages be able to match a specific geographic area based on a shape in a digital map, not just the “best approximate” area per the current rules. The FCC wants commenters to weigh in on how compliance would be measured.

The new rules also require that carriers support transmission of hazard symbols and small photos in a new class of alerts called Public Safety Messages. The FCC wants comments on how this would improve public safety. Plus, they want input on the size of the image as well as anything else that would affect delivery. Other new message-related rules:

  • increase message character length from 90 to 360 characters
  • allow URLs and phone numbers to be included in messages
  • provide Spanish messages (although the FCC would like comment on whether alert authorities would send alerts in other languages if the carriers could send them.)

The FCC wants comment on how to best give cell customers ability to easily choose which types of WEA messages they’ll receive, when and how. Customers can already opt out of all but emergency messages from the President of the United States, but the FCC wants the interfaces on mobile devices more clear.

As it stands, WEA messages disappear on some devices once they’ve been read the first time. The FCC wants to know if and how public safety would be improved if cell customers could easily retrieve messages. 

Lots of important stuff, right?

Gary Timm of the Wisconsin Emergency Alert System Committee wrote the emergency managers in his state (his emphasis included), “IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU COMMENT ON THESE FCC PROPOSALS!! Otherwise, the FCC may adopt something you don’t like, or may not adopt something you think they should have. And this is important to understand - the FCC will NEVER adopt a rule based on its own judgment - all rules are adopted (or rejected) SOLELY based on the comments filed on the FCC website. So your comments matters very, very much and will be read.” 

I know folks, Gary included, who would be glad to answer questions. Drop me a note and I’ll put you in touch. Meantime, start preparing your comments.