New National Text Messaging Alert System

By: Sarah Batista
By: Sarah Batista

July 19, 2006

Most of the country first found learned of the terrorist attacks on 9-11 through the television. Fortunately, a new government emergency system will soon change how we receive national alerts--it's through text messaging. The system is still in the works, but as of right now, any digital device that can receive text messages will get the alerts. The goal is for people to be able to get information wherever they are, no matter what they are doing.

Government officials spent Wednesday testing a national alert system that will change the way Americans receive national alerts. Text messages would be transmitted through cell phone, internet or any other digital medium.

"We have the technology to do this, and it's a good technology and this is going to allow us to access as many people as possible if we have a catastrophe in this country," said David Paulison, FEMA Director.

Only the President can order a national alert. Originally, the alerts only covered nuclear attacks. Last month, President Bush authorized the Department of Homeland Security to extend that.

The new system will warn of war situations, terrorist attacks, or any other public safety issues. Marge Thomas with Charlottesville's Emergency Communication Center said it's much more efficient.

"As long as they've got their cell phone or pager with them, they're going to get this information, so the sooner we know, the sooner the citizens know, the quicker actions that we can take," said Thomas.

As with most technological advances, officials still have to work out the kinks. A mass alert could jam cell phone lines and some people may not want even want to receive them. Right now, officials are determining how people can opt out of getting the alerts. In the meantime, the new system seems promising.

"This way, everyone could receive [them] very fast and be up-to-date on what's happening," said Thomas.

Officials have been testing the system in the Washington area for the past two years. Once this new system gets the go ahead, it will start being rolled out in phases by the end of next year.

The new warning system is expected to cost about $1 million each year to maintain.

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