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Emergency Alerts: Coming to Your Cell Phone?

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Emergency alerts may soon be delivered by more than just your television set or old-fashioned radio: The federal government is considering alerting you via text message should a possible natural disaster or terrorist attack directly affect your area.

The Senate Subcommittee on Disaster Prevention and Prediction met this week on Capitol Hill to discuss creating a national, integrated all-hazards alert system that uses digital technology to efficiently send public warnings to Americans.

In case of a national emergency or natural disaster, the president already can communicate with the nation through the Emergency Alert System (EAS). However, during the last five decades the system has been in place, a national alert has never been fully activated--not even during the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"It was a good system in its time, but I don't know many people that carry radios around in their pockets anymore," Stevens says. "Therefore, we need to be able to communicate with people on their cell phones and BlackBerries."

The technology to deliver alerts to your PC or handheld device exists, but EAS primarily works at the state and local level to disperse regional messages, including AMBER alerts, hazardous-material incidents, and severe-weather warnings.

"A public-warning interoperability solution will not be achieved by the federal government purchasing a new national emergency alert network or buying a software application," said Richard Taylor, testifying on behalf of the National Emergency Alerting and Response System Initiative. "We need standards for interfacing existing programs."

Hoover echoed that sentiment. "We need legislation to tell us exactly what the integration policy will be," he said.

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