Wireless Upgrades

A request by a group of large wireless carriers under the banner of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) to delay the implementation of upgrades to Wireless Emergency Alerts has been denied by the FCC. These upgrades, specified by the FCC in September of 2016, require that wireless carriers increase the maximum length of messages from 90 to 360 characters, and support embedding of phone numbers and URLs in alerts.

With multiple major disasters having occurred since these new rules were released, including three major hurricanes and wildfires in Northern California, member of the DEMA National Advisory Council Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Subcommittee Francisco Sanchez said, "From my perspective, all of the recommendations approved last year by the FCC were a consensus agreement out of dialog between public safety officials, social scientists, mobile phone developers and technology experts, and the fact that the industry would ask for more time on issues they agreed to is concerning."

Regarding the capabilities of these alerts, Sanchez noted "using the device to be able to tell you where you are to decide whether you need to get that alert is essential for us to provide public safety information not only during Harvey, the evacuations during Maria, the wildfires in California but also during the kind of mass shootings we've seen recently."

In addition to changes in the character length limit and enhancements for embedding, the rules dictated by the FCC will also allow for such features as improved targeting of alerts to specific geographical regions, introduction of Public Safety Messages, and support for transmission of Spanish-language alerts.