| WASHINGTON, Sept 28
WASHINGTON, Sept 28 The U.S. Federal
Communications Commission on Thursday approved rules requiring
wireless carriers to provide upgraded emergency alerts including
more information than currently allowed such as photos and web
links, acting after the system was used to help find the suspect
in Sept. 17 New York and New Jersey bombings.
The alert system, in place since 2012, is typically used to
send messages to mobile phone users to warn of dangerous weather
or find missing children but can be employed for security
threats. The FCC said the new rules will take effect over the
next one to two-and-a-half years.
A trade association representing wireless providers said it
expects it will take more than a year to develop industry
standards before some aspects of enhanced alerts are in place.
Shortcomings in the current system emerged after authorities
in New York City used the U.S. Wireless Emergency Alert system
to seek help to find the suspect in the bombings in Manhattan
and the New Jersey shore. Their alert, sent to millions of
mobile phone users, stated, "WANTED: Ahmad Khan Rahami,
28-yr-old male. See media for pic. Call 9-1-1 if seen."
The alert did not contain a picture of Rahami, who was
caught on Sept. 19.
It was the first time the system had been used to help find
a criminal suspect. But some U.S. lawmakers and message
recipients criticized the alert because it required users to
conduct an internet search to find a photo rather than simply
including the picture.
The FCC's new rules expand the maximum length of emergency
text message alerts to 360 characters from the current 90 and
allow for embedded web address links and telephone numbers. The
FCC is also considering how to include thumbnail-sized photos
and symbols in wireless alerts but did not act yet on that.
Wireless carriers have expressed concern that alerts that
include a website address could lead to network problems if
millions of cellphone users all click on a link at the same
The wireless trade association CTIA, representing companies
including Verizon Communications Inc, AT&T Inc,
Sprint Corp and others, said it is planning to conduct a
trial to gauge whether photos and videos "could be included in
future alerts in a manner that does not cause harmful network
congestion or technical issues."
The FCC also created a new class of action-oriented alerts
like "boil water" for safe drinking water or "shelter in place"
warnings during severe weather.
The commission is also requiring mobile phone carriers to
deliver alerts to more specific geographic areas. Alerts are
broadcast only from cell towers whose coverage areas match an
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, urged the
FCC to modernize the alerts. "In light of the need to respond in
real time to terror threats, we can't afford to have an
emergency wireless response system that is stuck in the '90s,"
Schumer said this week.
(Reporting by David Shepardson)