FCC Approves Wireless Emergency Alerts


The Federal Communications Commission has approved new rules that modernize emergency alerts and allows for states and municipalities to send alerts to wireless phones via text message.

Law enforcement and other first responders have been sending emergency alerts to cellphones and other devices since 2008, when the FCC first updated its technical and procedural requirements to allow for text messages. Now, after 8 years of experience with the technology, the Commission says it feels confident in updating its official rules to allow for more wireless alerts.

The new rules provide some expansion of allowable wireless alerts. Messages can now be as long as 360 characters – up from the original 90 character limit. This amounts to approximately 3-4 sentences. Messages can also include embedded phone numbers for a touch-to-call option or embedded URLs for additional information.

The rules also allow for additional message types. Previously, alerts were primarily limited to weather notifications, criminal suspect alerts, amber alerts and silver alerts. Now, a new class of message is available called “Public Safety Messages”, which enable officials to send more general notifications to the public such as boil water orders.

The rules also require that wireless providers to support Spanish language message transmission.

Consistent with current procedure wireless alerts will be limited to users in geographical areas relevant to the alert being issued.