The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has today issued new requirements that wireless providers will have to adhere to when it comes to dealing with Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) - typically SMS messages which inform device owners that something is happening nearby. The definition of nearby is actually the most noteworthy of the requirements as the FCC now expects wireless providers to - with relatively pinpoint precision - deliver emergency alerts only to those who are likely to be affected by them. With the FCC explaining “one-tenth of a mile” outside the target area is the margin of error that will be permitted under the new rules. This rule is not only intended to guarantee those likely to be affected are informed, but also to avoid situations where those who are not affected are not unnecessarily panicked.
Precise geographic targeting aside, the FCC will also require wireless providers to ensure emergency messages remain accessible via a wireless device for up to 24 hours after the message has been delivered. Although this is only for unseen messages, as those who do see the WEA ahead of the expiry time will be able to delete the message at their own discretion. While not new regulations as such, the FCC did take today’s announcement as an opportunity to also confirm the previously-announced rules regarding Spanish-language support and an increase in emergency alert message characters (360 from 90) must be adopted by wireless providers no later than May 1, 2019. While the deadline for aspects like the newly-announced better geographic targeting will be six months later, November 30, 2019.
The WEA system has come under fire recently due to an event that recently occurred in Hawaii where residents were informed of an imminent missile attack which proved to be sent in error. While this message did technically inform the right geographic recipients, one of the biggest criticisms leveled at the system is how long it took for recipients to be informed the message was sent in error. Although the press release from the FCC on today’s rule changes did not specifically reference this event, the general message relayed through the new changes comes with an emphasis on the system (and sent messages) being far more accurate in future.