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Got Wireless Alerts?

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California, a state overwhelmed by people and their electronic devices, plans to implement wireless emergency alerting in the near future. The population in California continues to boom, and along with this growth in population comes an increase in the number of cell phones, BlackBerrys, and other wireless electronics residing in pockets, purses and vehicles.

"We want to set up a system that would allow us to push emergency alert messages to any wireless device in a specific geographic region," says Eric Lamoureux, Chief, Office of Public Information for the Governor's Office of Emergency Services (OES) in„California.„

Whether to warn citizens of a major terrorist threat, wildfires or earthquakes, the broadcast technology used for such area-wide warnings could save lives and time. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), more than 70% of all state and local Emergency Alert System (EAS) messages are weather related.„

In working with existing cellular technology providers,„California's OES understands the concern voiced by existing cellular technology providers that sending individual messages to a large quantity of wireless customers could tax the already overburdened system. ˙We would have to use a different technology for this," says Lamoureux. "The existing [system] allows text messages to be sent from one point to another. Rather, we would use one message that transmits to multiple users, simultaneously."

In addition, it's important to educate those distributing messages on what's considered appropriate, he adds. "The messages that do go out must be critical, life-saving alerts," he stresses.

Seventy-five percent of the public uses cellular phones, says Lamoureux. "Ultimately, we're so mobile that you're not necessarily going to be around a television or listening to a radio station when something occurs." The important thing, he notes, is to look at all possible options for disseminating information to the public in an emergency situation.„

Washington„D.C.has an initiative is under way to establish protocols and procedures for such an alert system. Analog and digital radio broadcast stations, analog and digital television stations, and wireless cable stations comprise the current EAS.

The FCC is reviewing the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), which many organizations believe offers a "practical means of creating an effective interface between emergency managers and multiple emergency alert distribution platforms." This is noted in the FCC's "Second Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking," adopted May 31 and released on July 12.„

The report notes all EAS participants will be required to accept alerts and warnings in the CAP format, and the protocol will be adopted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of the Interior approve adoption of CAP-Version 1.1.„

"That_s certainly going to support what we_re proposing here in„California," says Lamoureux. "We're hoping by the end of the year to see some initial recommendations out of D.C. to help steer our initiative in„California."

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