Your attention, please: A new bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz on Wednesday is aiming to improve how the public receives emergency alerts — including, potentially, the ability to disseminate messages using the country's most popular streaming services.
The bipartisan bill, which was introduced along with Republican senator John Thune of South Dakota, is called the the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement Act of 2018.
In addition to seeking a more reliable way to distribute emergency alerts, like January's false missile alert, lawmakers say they also want to explore ways to reach individuals who may not be using cable television or terrestrial radio, the most common emergency alert mediums.
"When a missile alert went out across Hawaii 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 Schatz, a ranking member on the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet.
One of the bill's goals is to track and study false alerts when they occur, improving the way states plan for emergency alerts.
"The READI Act implements lessons learned from past incidents and recognizes that emergency protocols must change along with communication technology," Senator Thune said, acknowledging that management mistakes can diminish the credibility and effectiveness of emergency alerts.
The READI Act would also compel FEMA to create better practices for retracting false alerts if they occur. It took Hawaii's emergency management officials 38 minutes to issue a retraction during January's false missile alert.
"In a real emergency, these alerts can save lives so we have to do everything we can to get it right," Schatz said.
In February, Schatz also introduced the ALERT Act, which would put the federal government in charge of alerting the public if a missile attack actually happens.
The senator has said that the federal government is in a position to know for sure whether a missile is on its way, so when that determination is made, state and local government should not serve as a middleman. That bill passed the senate in June.