Commercial Mobile Alert System Set to Launch

After more than five years in the works, a national emergency alert system that sends messages to cell phones during disasters is set to launch. Called the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), by the end of 2011, the system will roll out in some U.S. cities, including New York City and Washington, D.C. The alert plan was originally approved by Congress in 2006 under the Warning Alert and Response Network Act.

According to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, the CMAS (also known as Personal Localized Alerting Network, or PLAN) will direct emergency messages to mobile devices, such as cell phones and pagers, in the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other serious emergencies. Genachowski and FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said the new national system will be selective in what it messages so as not to overburden the system.

“These are really focused on the highest levels of alerts, and those that require urgent action,” Fugate said in an article.

Alerts from CMAS cover alerts issued by the President, alerts involving imminent threats to safety or life, and Amber alerts, and participating carriers may allow subscribers to block all but Presidential alerts.

The emergency messages are not text messages, according to the FCC Website page about CMAS/PLAN.

“Alerts will not have to be opened like SMS text messages, but will ‘pop up’ on the device’s screen,” the site explained. “PLAN alerts are transmitted using a new technology that is separate and different from voice calls and SMS text messages. This new technology ensures that emergency alerts will not get stuck in highly congested user areas, which can happen with standard mobile voice and texting services.”

While not mandatory, several wireless providers, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and Nextel have announced their intention to participate in the system. Providers who do not want to participate in the program are required to notify their customers.

Some phones may require software upgrades to receive alerts, but in other cases a subscriber may need to purchase a new PLAN-capable device. The FCC recommends that consumers should check with their wireless carrier regarding the availability of PLAN-capable handsets.

For more information about the Commercial Mobile Alert System/PLAN, visit: and