Schatz, Thune Reintroduce Legislation To Improve The Way The Public Receives Missile Alerts

Bipartisan Bill Would Provide Public With More Reliable Emergency Alerts on their Wireless Phones, TVs, and Radios

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and John Thune (R-S.D.) reintroduced the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement (READI) Act. The bipartisan legislation would ensure more people receive relevant emergency alerts on their mobile phones, televisions, and radios, explore new ways of alerting the public through online video and audio streaming services, track and study false alerts when they occur, and improve the way states plan for emergency alerts.

“When a missile alert went out across Hawai‘i last year, some people never got the message on their phones, while others missed it on their TVs and radios. Even though it was a false alarm, the missile alert exposed real flaws in the way people receive emergency alerts,” said Senator Schatz, lead Democrat on the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet. “Our bill fixes a number of important problems with the system responsible for delivering emergency alerts. In a real emergency, these alerts can save lives so we have to do everything we can to get it right.”

“South Dakotans understand how drastically the weather can change on a dime,” said Senator Thune, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet. “For that reason, among many others, this legislation would make necessary improvements to help keep South Dakotans and communities around the country safe in times of emergency. I want to thank Sen. Schatz for his leadership on this issue and look forward to working with him to move this bill forward.”

The Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alert System ensure that the public is quickly informed about emergency alerts issued by federal, state, tribal, and local governments and delivered over the radio, television, and mobile wireless devices. These announcements keep the public safe and informed. FEMA administers the platform government agencies use to originate alerts, while the FCC oversees the systems used to distribute the alerts over broadcast and mobile wireless networks.

The READI Act would:

  • Ensure more people receive emergency alerts by eliminating the option to opt out of receiving certain federal alerts, including missile alerts, on mobile phones;
  • Require active alerts issued by the President or FEMA to be repeated. Currently, alerts on TV or radio may only be played once;
  • Explore establishing a system to offer emergency alerts to audio and video online streaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify;
  • Encourage State Emergency Communications Committees to periodically review and update their State Emergency Alert System Plans, which are often out of date;
  • Compel FEMA to create best practices for state, tribal, and local governments to use for issuing alerts, avoiding false alerts, and retracting false alerts if they occur, as well as for alert origination training and plans for officials to contact each other and federal officials during emergencies; and
  • Establish a reporting system for false alerts so the FCC can track when they occur and examine their causes.

In addition to the READI Act, Senator Schatz reintroduced the ALERT Act earlier this year. In April 2018, Schatz led a Senate field hearing in Hawai‘i in response to the false missile alert.

Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representatives Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawai‘i), Pete Olson (R-Texas), and Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.).

The READI Act is support by NCTA – The Internet and Television Association, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the Internet Association, CTIA – The Wireless Association, and the Wireless Infrastructure Association.

“NAB applauds Sens. Schatz and Thune and Reps. McNerney, Gabbard, Bilirakis and Olson for their introduction of the READI Act, which would enhance our nation’s emergency alerting capabilities. As America’s ‘first informers,’ local broadcasters support the legislation’s goal of improving accuracy and frequency of emergency alerts and strengthening coordination between federal and local authorities during times of disaster. We look forward to working with bill’s cosponsors and their colleagues in Congress to improve upon the accuracy and reliability of emergency alerts,” said Gordon Smith, President and CEO of NAB.

“Modernizing the emergency alert process is crucial to Americans’ safety and the READI Act is a well-constructed, collaborative approach to solving this critical problem. The internet industry commends Congress’s dedication to studying this issue and thanks Sen. Schatz, Sen. Thune, Rep. McNerney, Rep. Bilirakis, Rep. Gabbard, and Rep. Olson for their leadership on this important legislation,” said Michael Bloom, Vice President of Federal Government Affairs for the Internet Association.

“We commend Senators Schatz and Thune, as well as Representatives Bilirakis, Gabbard, McNerney and Olson for their commitment to maintaining consumer confidence in Wireless Emergency Alerts. WEAs are one of our most effective public alert warning tools, and we will continue to work with the public safety community and government officials to support their proven life-saving capabilities,” said Kelly Cole, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for CTIA.

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