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FCC Approves Cell Phone Alert System

Federal regulators in Washington have approved plans to upgrade the nation's Emergency Alert System to include text messages to cellphones and other mobile devices. VOA's Paul Sisco has more in this Searching for Solutions report.

When disaster strikes, the Federal Communications Commission wants to make sure that as many Americans as possible know about it. The Emergency Alert System just approved by the FCC would send out warnings to cell phones about terrorist threats and imminent natural disasters. Law enforcement agencies could also use the system to held find missing children.

"The country has had for a very long time a very effective emergency broadcast system," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin says. "What this is going to do is put that same kind of emergency alert capability in everyone's pocket."

The wireless industry strongly supports the initiative. Participation would be voluntary, and cell phone users could opt out of the system.

"It's my lifeline. It's how I stay connected to my friends and family," a female cell phone user says.

A male cell phone user adds "I couldn't survive without it. One is a BlackBerry [wireless communication device] and one is a cell phone."

"It is so essential that I always carry it with me," another user said.

Many universities already have emergency message alert systems in the wake of the mass killings at Virginia Tech University. Last April, a lone gunman killed 32 students before killing himself.

Regional warnings would come from federal or state officials, and the president will continue to have sole responsibility for issuing nationwide alerts.

The FCC says the cell phone alert service could be in place by 2010.