(BIVN) – Hawai‘i’s Congressional Delegation continues to push legislation to improve the nationwide Emergency Alert System, in the wake of January’s embarrassing false missile alert.
Today, the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement (READI) Act was introduced in the U.S. House, courtesy Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) and Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01). The same Act has already been introduced in the U.S. Senate, thanks to U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and John Thune (R-S.D).
According to the lawmakers, the READI Act would:
- Ensure more people receive emergency alerts by eliminating the option to opt out of receiving certain federal alerts, including missile alerts, on mobile phones;
- Require active alerts issued by the President or FEMA to be repeated. Currently, alerts on TV or radio may only be played once;
- Explore establishing a system to offer emergency alerts to audio and video online streaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify;
- Encourage State Emergency Communications Committees to periodically review and update their State Emergency Alert System Plans, which are often out of date;
- Compel FEMA to create best practices for state, tribal, and local governments to use for issuing alerts, avoiding false alerts, and retracting false alerts if they occur, as well as for alert origination training and plans for officials to contact each other and federal officials during emergencies; and
- Establish a reporting system for false alerts so the FCC can track when they occur and examine their causes.
Rep. Gabbard took to the House floor in support of the measure, saying:
“On January 13, earlier this year, there was a text message that was sent out to over one million phones across the state of Hawai‘i that read: ‘BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.’ This turned out to be a false alarm, but this message terrified residents and visitors all across our state and revealed deep gaps within the alert system, preparedness measures, and communication channels at every level of government. In the months since, my colleagues from Hawai‘i and I have introduced several pieces of legislation to address the problems that led to and contributed to this false alert going out so we can try to prevent something like this from happening again, not only in Hawai‘i but anywhere in the country.
“We’ve introduced the READI Act, which will expand delivery of critical emergency alerts to cell phones, TVs, and radios, and recognize the new technological ways that people are getting information. Seeing how we can get alerts through streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, and Netflix. Ensuring we take these steps now ahead of any future disaster is critical for every community across this country. I urge my colleagues to join us in supporting and passing this timely and important legislation.”
“On January 13th our residents and visitors suffered through 38 minutes of terrifying uncertainty after the state issued a false ballistic missile alert,” said Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in a media release. “In the aftermath of the incident, we learned that a systemic failure of leadership led to the false alert and that the Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency should not be responsible for notifying the public about an act of war. We also discovered that not everyone received the mobile phone warning and no mechanism was in place to immediately retract the false alert. The READI Act will fortify and improve the federal Emergency Alert System and expand the reach of emergency alerts on phones, tv, radio, and online. It will create effective policies and procedures for issuing alerts and the ability to immediately retract misinformation. We must help restore the public’s trust in government and ensure that we have an effective alert system in place.”
“When a missile alert went out across Hawai‘i in January, some people never got the message on their phones, while others missed it on their TVs and radios. Even though it was a false alarm, the missile alert exposed real flaws in the way people receive emergency alerts,” said Senator Schatz – the lead Democrat on the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet – in an earlier media release issued after the Act was introduced in the Senate. “Our bill fixes a number of important problems with the system responsible for delivering emergency alerts. In a real emergency, these alerts can save lives so we have to do everything we can to get it right.”