The Federal Communications Commission is moving ahead with a plan to send text alerts to cell phone users in the case of national emergencies. The plan would allow the FCC to forward emergency texts to cell phone providers and participating providers would forward the texts to customers. So far, most major carriers have expressed their intent to participate once the program is up and running.
Compared to other methods of alerting citizens about impending natural disasters or security threats, no other medium could be as effective as using cell phones. The FCC reports that the United States has roughly 250 million cell phone subscribers, so the program would certainly reach the vast majority of Americans. It seems like a promising idea, and it could be an excellent tool to alert communities of floods, tornados or hurricanes. The FCC also wants to use the system for child abduction alerts and special “Presidential Alerts,” a somewhat vague category relating to national security.
This type of program has immense promise as long as the system is not abused. It’s hard not to be reminded of the Homeland Security Alert System which used the infamous color system to warn of terrorist attacks. Since its inception, that program has been used to cause unnecessary fear and alarm. Airports feature signs warning travelers that we are still under the “orange” threat level. It begins to lose meaning. In similar fashion, it seems likely that such a text alert system could lose effectiveness if citizens are overloaded with child abduction alerts and extraneous messages from the president.
To truly make the alert system acceptable, cell phone users should be able to opt-out of such a program, and warnings should be issued primarily for natural disasters. If these principles are followed, we feel that these texts can benefit the safety of our country.