The FCC has sent letters to the nine largest providers of Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) requesting information on how to enable the messages to be sent in languages beyond English and Spanish.
WEA messages provide emergency information via “text-like messages” to mobile devices in areas threatened or experiencing other emergencies, such as missing children. The program began in 2012 and has been used more than 70,000 times.
“Mobile phones are central to our lives—they are with us all the time and they have become a fundamental part of public safety communications,” FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel said in a press release about the FCC Wireless Emergency Alerts news. “Today, Wireless Emergency Alerts support messages only in English and Spanish. That means many non-English speakers in the United States continue to lack crucial information about imminent dangers and other emergencies. I believe that language should not be a barrier to getting critical information that could save lives. I also want to thank New York Attorney General Letitia James for her attention to this important issue.”
WEA is deeply linked to the Emergency Alert System (EAS). Both have gotten attention during the past couple of years:
In April 2021, the FCC released a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) asking providers to comment on a number of questions related to how the metrics of the WEA system should be defined and reported.
The FCC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) were set to test the EAS and WEA on August 11, 2021. A year later – in August 2022 — the FCC announced an agreement with 42 state and local government agencies to test the accuracy of the WEA. The tests were planned for September 12 and 13, 2022.
In October 2022, the FCC released a NPRM that contained proposals on the security of the EAS and WEA.
The EAS has gotten attention as well. In December 2021, the FCC took steps to improve the visual clarity and accessibility of the EAS. These include improving those attributes during nationwide EAS tests and requiring the use of the Internet-based version of tests if available. The FCC sought comment on the viability of the legacy EAS and ways to improve it.