Experts back standard public alert system

The nation needs a sophisticated national warning system that relies on IT to spread warning messages far and wide, government and industry public-safety experts said today.

The Partnership for Public Warning?which includes representatives of IT companies and agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FBI and Nuclear Regulatory Commission?conducted a workshop to generate its report, Developing a Unified All-Hazard Public Warning System.

In its report, the panel called for a single standard protocol for issuing alerts, notifications and warnings for all types of hazards so that authorities can communicate emergency-related information broadly and quickly.

"The protocol might be implemented in any number of ways," the report said. "For general computing, use of a standard markup language such as Extensible Markup Language appears very desirable. The protocol might also be expressed in a compact digital code, very small in volume and easily utilized by a wide variety of devices."

The panel concluded that it would be possible to deliver warnings to receivers embedded in a variety of devices.

"Recent developments in digital communications make it possible to transfer a great quantity of information over landlines, wireless links and satellite relays. ? Personal wireless electronic devices, ranging from cell phones to personal digital assistants, provide a variety of receivers for individuals," the report said.

The report elaborated on the need to incorporate lessons learned about the effect of hazard warnings on the public's response. As an example, the panel cited widespread confusion about the Homeland Security Office's existing color-coded terrorism alerts and said the current patchwork of public warning systems fails to reach the most at-risk people.

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