Bill calls for better emergency alerts

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill June 19 that would make sure there are adequate warning systems using the newest technology to rapidly notify the public in event of a terrorist attack.

Although air sirens, television and radio can be used for emergency warnings, Maloney said federal officials must develop a plan to make sure that all forms of communication are tapped in event of a disaster.

Maloney's bill — the Emergency Warning Act of 2003 — calls on the federal government to develop warning systems to use "in the most comprehensive manner possible when a disaster occurs."

In a letter to Tom Ridge, secretary of the Homeland Security Department, Maloney said DHS must better use text messaging and other satellite technologies during national emergencies.

"Since text messaging technology is already available, DHS should consider establishing a uniform method of communicating with people who may be in transit, outdoors, or otherwise out of contact with traditional communications systems during a national disasters," Maloney said.

DHS is investigating what kind of alerts to develop and is expected to seek funding in its fiscal 2005 budget to get alert networks off the ground.

Maloney said it is essential to make sure there is not another communications snafu like the one that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, when many telephones would not work and there was no uniform way to tell the public what to do following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93.

"New York City has firsthand knowledge of the devastation that can occur when the people who are at the center of a disaster cannot receive communications about what actions they should take to protect themselves," Maloney said. "This legislation will ensure that as many lives as possible will be saved in future disasters."

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