Yesterday’s nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System was not flawless but it was a start, with FEMA saying it’s continuing to collect data from all participants as to how to improve the system prior to next year’s rollout.

More than 30,000 communications carriers were involved in the test, including broadcasters, cable operators, satellite radio and television, and wireline video-service providers.

Writing on FEMA’s Website last night, Damon Penn, assistant administrator/National Continuity Programs at the agency, said, “As we have been explaining throughout this process, this initial test was the first time we have gotten a sense of the reach and scope of this technology. It was our opportunity to get a sense of what worked, what didn’t and additional improvements that need to be made to the system as we move forward. It’s only through comprehensively testing, analyzing, and improving these technologies that we can ensure the most effective and reliable emergency alert and warning systems available at a moment’s notice in a time of real national emergency.”

He continued, “This nationwide test served the purpose for which it was intended – to identify gaps and generate a comprehensive set of data to help strengthen our ability to communicate during real emergencies. Based on preliminary data, media outlets in large portions of the country successfully received the test message, but it wasn’t received by some viewers or listeners.”

Test participants now have 45 days to analyze their data and to send their reports to the Federal Communications Commission. FEMA itself is collected comments as to what worked and what didn’t.?

“As we work to build a more modern system, we will continue to test the other newer technologies and communications tools that are also going to be part of our public alert and warning networks, such as cellphones, smartphones, the Internet and social-media networks,” Penn added. ??Weighing in on the test, FCC Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau Chief Jamie Barnett commented, “The Nationwide EAS test served the purpose for which it was intended – to identify gaps and generate a comprehensive set of data to help strengthen our ability to communicate during real emergencies. Based on preliminary data, large regions of the country received the test but some areas did not. We are currently in the process of collecting and analyzing data, and will reach a conclusion when that process is complete.”? 

Added the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, “We do know that in many places, the Emergency Alert Notification flowed through to viewers without a hitch. However, we also know that, in some places, it did not. In the coming days and weeks, we’ll continue to work closely with FEMA and the FCC so that we can collectively identify the specific cable-industry gaps and determine how they can be addressed in the future. And we remain committed to implementing the next generation alert system which will be deployed by all EAS participants by June 2012.”

Wireless Not Included

As mentioned, wireless was not included in this test, and Laurel, Md.-based Evolve Mobile Communications says EAS as it stands today is not enough.

The company, which provides text-messaging service, says texting is far superior than phone lines when it comes to reaching friends, family and emergency services in times of disaster.

Says Alvin Butler, president/CEO of Evolve Mobile Communications, “You can text friends and family during an emergency, so it makes sense that you should be able to text 911 and other government relief agencies as well.”

To address that issue, Evolve says it’s developed “the only two-way text messaging system, called Text2Them, capable of providing post-disaster communications to every person with a mobile phone…Evolve Mobile´s new patent-pending two-way technology allows residents or employees to communicate with agencies to get information or critical help following a disaster. Furthermore instead of years, Text2Them could be installed in every city in the country in months, making every city truly prepared for disasters.”

The program, which Evolve says creates text message networks similar to voice networks, “is the first system that doesn’t just broadcast alerts but allows residents to respond for help or to have questions answered. In addition, it is the first system capable of allowing residents to access 911 by text message, which is critical when the disaster results in jammed phone lines.”

Debra Baker

The Daily

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