Saturday, July 08, 2017
Billy Long: Maintaining emergency alert system is crucial
The Emergency Alert System (EAS) dates back to 1951. Since its inception, the EAS has allowed the President to communicate with the American people during national emergencies. The EAS also allows state and local authorities to use this system to deliver messages to the public regarding weather, emergency information, local incidents and AMBER child abduction alerts.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service all work together at the federal level to ensure the EAS is implemented properly. However, the President is the only individual who has the authority to decide when to activate the EAS.
On May 22, 2011, Joplin, Missouri was hit by a devastating tornado. It killed over 160 people and destroyed over 7,000 homes and over 500 businesses. Following the tornado, the National Weather Service released a report that highlighted the lessons learned from the Joplin tornado and the importance of disaster preparedness. One of the key takeaways from the report was the need for the EAS to effectively communicate the sense of urgency for particular events.
Another key takeaway from this report was the need to establish warnings which are area specific and that can be received through text messages, smartphone apps and other mobile communications. In 2016, the FCC voted to upgrade emergency smartphone alerts. This upgrade increases access to information and allows individuals to receive text messages that include links to pictures, maps and phone numbers.
Over the years Congress, along with other government agencies, has taken huge steps to ensure that the EAS is up to date as technology continues to change. In 2006, President Bush signed an executive order ensuring that the President could use the EAS to communicate with the American people under any condition. This executive order was in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina. In both instances, the EAS was either not used or not used soon enough and individuals were not properly informed of life-threatening circumstances, which could have helped save lives.
Maintaining an up-to-date EAS is crucial for emergency situations. I will ensure that we are better prepared to handle emergency situations with an appropriate system of communication for individuals in affected areas.