FEMA to raise public awareness about emergency alerts with ad campaign

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been a key federal agency behind the Wireless Emergency Alert system, but is apparently concerned about another emergency: not many people know about the system. So FEMA is partnering with the Advertising Council to launch new public service advertising this week intended to educate the public about the system.

FEMA's public relations blitz comes at the start of the Atlantic hurricane season and in the wake of deadly tornados that have torn across the Midwest. As the New York Times notes, the campaign will coincide with Hurricane Preparedness Week, which began on Sunday and runs through Saturday. The annual hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

The WEA system allows FEMA to deliver warning messages from the president of the United States, the National Weather Service and state and local emergency operations centers to mobile users. The system also supports AMBER alerts for missing children. Customers receive the warnings via a text and special sound or vibration when their phones are enabled with special chipsets and software. The warnings are sent based upon geolocation. Public-safety officials have marveled at how precise the alerts can be--down to phones in a few blocks in a city or town. The system is based on a series of protocols called the Commercial Mobile Alert System, or CMAS, which provides an interface to participating carriers for delivery of alerts.

More than 100 wireless carriers now support the service, which was formally launched in 2012. The system came about after the FCC partnered with the nation's Tier 1 wireless carriers and FEMA.

Ad Council CEO Peggy Conlon told the NYT that it was "particularly timely and appropriate to launch the new advertising at the beginning of the hurricane season, and in light of the terrible tornadoes in the Midwest and wildfires in California."

CTIA noted last week that in advance of a deadly tornado that struck Oklahoma, the state issued 30 emergency alerts to notify people that tornado conditions existed. Speaking on a public-safety panel last week at the CTIA Wireless 2013 conference in Las Vegas, Holly Henderson, external affairs manager at SouthernLinc, said the emergency alerts are mandated by the government, making them difficult for carriers to control, and sometimes these alerts annoy customers. She suggested that the industry perhaps develop an app that would not only provide better information in the event of a disaster but that could complement emergency alerts without inundating users.

For more:
- see this NYT article

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