The Federal Communications Commission has been working on a new emergency alert system for tornadoes, hurricanes, and other disasters. The PLAN, or Personalized Localized Alerting Network, will allow geographically targeted text message sent to cell phones to warn the user of an impending emergency.
The new PLAN will not replace the current television and radio alerts but will add to them. “In the event of a major disaster, government authorities can get lifesaving information to you quickly,” says Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC.
The new Personalized Localized Alerting Network will be announced publicly on Tuesday by Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator W. Craig Fugate and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Washington, D.C. is expected to on board by then.
PLAN is expected to be initiated across the nation by April 2012. AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon have voluntarily agreed to initiate the service by the deadline.
While some cell phones are already set up with the circuitry required for the alerts, others will need software modifications. By October, all new AT&T phones will be ready to receive PLAN alerts.
While carriers are not presently required to participate in PLAN, all carriers may eventually be required. Once PLAN is active, consumers will need to ask whether their cell phones are equipped to received the software upgrade required for the service. Down the road, carriers will be required to tell consumers if a phone is PLAN enabled.
The FCC noted that a similar alert system is in place in Japan and saved many lives during the March disaster. According to Fugate, the use of the alert, even when sent 15 to 30 seconds before the disaster struck, can actually save lives.