News / USA

US Launches Cell Phone Emergency Alert System

A cell phone enabled to receive emergency notifications, is shown May 10, 2011 in New York.
A cell phone enabled to receive emergency notifications, is shown May 10, 2011 in New York.
Peter Fedynsky

The United States is introducing a new public alert system that will deliver warnings to mobile phones in the event of emergency.  The system is first being rolled out in New York and Washington and will operate nationwide by April 2012.

Top mobile phone company executives joined federal officials and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the World Trade Center site to announce the so-called Personal Localized Alerting Network, or PLAN.  Bloomberg said the system will allow cell phones to receive free alerts about imminent safety threats.

“If people need to take action, the system will transmit instructions accurately and in a timely manner, which is something that could save countless lives," he said.

The warnings will be localized by using only local cell phone towers.  The notifications could warn residents and visitors about an approaching tornado, hurricane or storm.  If there is an urban terror threat, everyone in the area with a cell phone can be warned and advised what to do.

All major U.S. cell phone companies will participate in the system.  Phillip Humm is the chief executive of T-Mobile:

“We will have a minimum of two plan-enabled devices this August," he said. "And our aim is to have the vast majority of handsets that we bring to market in 2012 to be plan-capable."

The system will give priority to emergency messages, overriding all regular telephone and text traffic.  It was announced on a terrace overlooking Ground Zero, the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center buildings.  The chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, said that tragedy taught America the necessity of communication technologies in times of crisis and disaster.

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