The new system – which sends text messages to mobile phones - can target specific geographic areas, which could be as large as a city or as small as a few blocks.
In the next few months, California will become the nation’s first state to deploy a mass mobile alerting system to alert residents and visitors in specific locations about potential emergency situations such as terrorist attacks, wildfires, storms, child abductions or nearby shootings.
Unlike the current alerting system, which notifies individuals via cable television or calls to their landline phones, the new system can send text messages to mobile phones, and -- more importantly -- can target specific geographic areas, which could be as large as a city or as small as a few blocks.
The system can also reach individuals who may not have landlines, may be visiting the area, or may not be in an area where they have immediate access to landlines, such as a shopping mall or sporting arena. The alerts will include vibration and an audio attention signal for wireless customers with hearing or vision disabilities.
The technology “will prove a tremendous resource to the country's public safety and emergency management community," said California Emergency Management Agency Secretary Matthew Bettenhausen.
Announced Aug. 24 by the California Emergency Management Agency and Sprint, provider of the technology, the system is based on the Commercial Mobile Alert System, a national program established by the Federal Communications Commission in response to the Warning, Alert and Response Act, which Congress passed in 2006.
California’s CMAS network will be able to alert citizens about national, state and local threats. With the alerting system, the Federal Emergency Management Agency can accept and aggregate alerts from the president, the National Weather Service and state and local emergency operations centers.
Pilot testing for the program begins in the fall in San Diego County under a partnership with the county’s Office of Emergency Services. In the pilot, the alerts will be sent to Sprint over a secure interface, enabled by Alcatel-Lucent's Broadcast Message Center.
The technology will be tested across urban, suburban and rural areas, and includes the involvement of law enforcement agencies, local jurisdictions and other regional partners.
"Our agency was able to notify thousands of residents about evacuations during the 2007 wildfires," said Ron Lane, director of the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services. "The new technology will expand our reach, allowing us to immediately and easily contact everyone in an impacted area, even if they are not residents of our county."
The technology may be available for public use in about a year, according to a report in Government Technology.