Wireless RERC on the Record: Advancing Access to Emergency Alerting

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Georgia Tech’s Center for Advanced Communications Policy (CACP), in collaboration with the Wireless RERC, submitted comments to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) In the Matter of Amendment of Part 11 of the Commission’s Rules Regarding the Emergency Alert System [15-94]; Wireless Emergency Alerts [PS Docket No. 15-91].  The proposed changes in the NPRM are intended to strengthen the emergency alerting systems and to increase their effectiveness at prompting the public to take the appropriate protective actions. The major areas of change included improving alerting organization at the state level, bringing alerting tools up to date with advancements in technology, and developing community-based accessible public safety exercises. Wireless RERC comments contended that all communications received on digital devices should be accessible and concur that the proposed advancements for both WEA and EAS are a promising avenue for ensuring timely response and recognition of messages to safeguard all citizens.  The recommendations made are intended to facilitate the maturation and modernization of both systems, empowering all to make informed choices that result in maximizing message diffusion and ensuring the same timely and effective access to alerts and warnings for people with disabilities.

Following are a sample of recommendations included in the comments:

  • To ensure that all members of the population understand the messages, emergency managers and those writing the plans should also be very specific in their instructions concerning emergency actions to be taken, eliminating jargon and abbreviations.  Further, protective action instructions should be part of any State EAS Plan template, and that said template contains information ensuring that the needs of people with disabilities are included.
  • Crowdsourcing is proving to be a valuable tool for emergency managers in gathering and dispersing information. Nonetheless, the challenge of authenticating and verifying submitted information is a growing one, and currently only solved by the manual moderation of incoming reports. Continued review of agencies that utilize crowdsourcing technologies and social media during disaster response is recommended.
  • To ensure the accessibility of actual and test messages, EAS accessibility rules should apply across the board. The live code test presents an opportunity to gather data and feedback from the populace on the extent to which the accessibility requirements improve readability and comprehension of the message.
  • User data regarding the most frequent methods by which people receive emergency alerts supports the addition of State/Local WEA Testing in state-level preparedness procedures.   
  • Comments supported the use of EAS and WEA public service announcements (PSAs).  It was recommended that the PSAs present the information about the systems in several formats including audio, text, American Sign Language (ASL), and other languages with high usage in a particular area, and the symbol set provided by the IPAWS Symbology Plan approved by DHS and the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS Foundation.
  • Comments supported extending WEA rules to include tablets and other mobile devices, including wearable and other nontraditional communications devices. Given that wearable technology is a growing market and both people with and without disabilities have adopted its use, wearable technology should be integrated into the WEA/IPAWS environment.

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The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Technologies is sponsored by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under grant number 90RE5007-01-00. The opinions contained in this website are those of the Wireless RERC and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or NIDILRR.