Text message warning system lacks sponsor

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday adopted an order allowing transmission of federal-government emergency alerts via text message to cell phone users nationwide.

But FCC Commissioner Michael Copps warned that the plan may falter because it is not clear who will put it into effect.

Implementation of the order may be stymied by the fact that no federal agency has been identified to oversee transmission of the emergency alerts, Copps said in a statement.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has declined that role, Copps said.

"Unfortunately, there is one final issue that remains unresolved by today's order ? an issue that, if left uncorrected, threatens to vitiate it entirely," Copps said. "Indeed, if no agency assumes this role, the rules we enact today will never become effective."

The unwillingness of FEMA to fulfill the federal role is disheartening, Copps said.

According to Copps, FEMA representatives had gone along with the plan for a federal gateway overseeing the alert system until two months ago, when it raised objections to assuming that responsibility. The FCC is now left in the lurch wondering which other agency can take on that role or if it should pursue the role itself despite lack of experience with emergency alerts, Copps said.

"The time may come when the FCC must consider whether to begin the task of creating this infrastructure here at our own agency, and I will not hesitate to head down this road if it looks like the fastest and most effective way to bring mobile emergency alerts to the American people," Copps said.

FEMA officials were not immediately available for comment.

The FCC said its order is made in compliance with the Warning, Alert and Response Network Act to establish technical requirements for emergency messages to the public. Under the FCC's order, a Commercial Mobile Alert System will be created and it will be run voluntarily by mobile-phone carriers who will forward text-based emergency messages to their subscribers. A federal agency will serve as a gateway for the messages.

Consumers can expect to receive three types of emergency messages on their cell phones and mobile devices: presidential alerts, imminent threat alerts and child abduction/Amber Alerts, FCC said in a news release.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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