Congressman McNerney Leads Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Emergency Alerting
Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Jerry McNerney introduced H.R. 4856, the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement Act of 2019 (READI Act). The Congressman was joined by Congressman Gus Bilirakis (FL-12), Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), and Congressman Pete Olson (TX- 22). This bipartisan legislation would ensure that more people receive critical emergency alerts on their mobile phones, televisions, and radios, and would pave the way for examining the feasibility of issuing alerts through online audio and video streaming services. Additionally, the legislation would help states improve their plans for emergency alerts, equip alerting officials with tools for issuing alerts, and establish a reporting system for false alerts. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Senator John Thune (R-SD).
“The devastating wildfires that California experienced in recent years, and is continuing to experience at this very moment, demonstrate the need for having a robust, reliable, and widely-used Wireless Emergency Alert system,” said Congressman McNerney. “The READI Act will help improve the current WEA system and emergency alerting more broadly, so that my constituents and Americans across the country can count on receiving life-saving warnings when faced with these dire situations. I want to thank Representatives Bilirakis, Gabbard, and Olson for working with me on this important legislation, and Senators Schatz and Thune for their leadership on this legislation in the Senate.”
“For several years, I have been working to strengthen our nation’s emergency communication system,” said Congressman Gus Bilirakis (FL-12). “In 2016, a bill I authored, the IPAWS Modernization Act, was signed into law. It enhanced our emergency alert texting system and put requirements in place for FEMA to train state officials on appropriate use of the system. Sadly, we saw an event in Hawaii two years ago with an erroneous text alert which made it clear that more training is definitely needed. The legislation we are filing today builds upon our prior efforts and implements lessons learned in order to maximize effectiveness of this critical communication tool, which is important for all Floridians given the number of severe emergency weather conditions we face each year.”
“We must ensure our civil defense alert systems work for our residents when the need arises,” said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02). “This bill would help make sure that people get the timely information they need and are kept informed about developments when FEMA issues its alerts. It will also help prevent false alerts and make sure our state-level partners keep up-to-date plans to address emergency situations.”
“When it comes to emergency alert systems, errors and false alarms are a matter of life and death,” said Congressman Pete Olson (TX-22). “That’s why I was proud to join Reps. McNerney, Bilirakis and Gabbard to introduce this critical bill. It will keep our country’s alert systems on the cutting edge and improve public safety.”
The Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) System and the Emergency Alert System (EAS) ensure that the public can be quickly notified about emergency alerts issued by federal, state, tribal, and local governments and delivered over the radio, television, and mobile wireless devices. These messages keep the public safe and informed. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administers the platform that government agencies use to originate alerts, while the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) oversees the system used to distribute the alerts over broadcast and mobile wireless networks.
The READI Act would:
- Require State Emergency Communications Committees to periodically review and update their State Emergency Alert System Plans, which are often out of date.
- Direct FEMA to provide guidance to state, tribal, and local governments on issuing alerts (including the initiation, modification, and cancellation of alerts) and on training and certification of alerting officials, among other things.
- Establish a reporting system for false alerts so that the FCC can track when they occur and examine their causes.
- Ensure that more people receive emergency alerts by eliminating the option to out of receiving certain federal alerts on mobile phones.
- Require active alerts issued by the President or FEMA to be repeated. Currently alerts on TV or radio may only be played once.
- Explore the feasibility of providing emergency alerts to the public through online audio and video streaming services.
The READI Act is supported by CTIA – The Wireless Association, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the Internet Association, the Wireless Infrastructure Association, and NCTA – The Internet and Television Association.
“We commend Senators Schatz and Thune, as well as Representatives Bilirakis, Gabbard, McNerney and Olson for their commitment to maintaining consumer confidence in Wireless Emergency Alerts. WEAs are one of our most effective public alert warning tools, and we will continue to work with the public safety community and government officials to support their proven life-saving capabilities,” said Kelly Cole, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for CTIA.
“NAB applauds Sens. Schatz and Thune and Reps. McNerney, Gabbard, Bilirakis and Olson for their introduction of the READI Act, which would enhance our nation’s emergency alerting capabilities. As America’s ‘first informers,’ local broadcasters support the legislation’s goal of improving accuracy and frequency of emergency alerts and strengthening coordination between federal and local authorities during times of disaster. We look forward to working with bill’s cosponsors and their colleagues in Congress to improve upon the accuracy and reliability of emergency alerts,” said Gordon Smith, President and CEO of NAB.
“We applaud the leadership of Sens. Schatz and Thune and Reps. McNerney, Bilirakis, Gabbard and Olson for introduction of the READI Act of 2019 which develops guidance and best practices for how state and local governments can improve emergency alerts, particularly to address the issuance of false alerts. As participants in the nation’s emergency alert system, cable operators appreciate Congress’ efforts to improve coordination between federal and local authorities to ensure consumers receive accurate and relevant emergency and public safety information in their local communities,” stated NCTA – The Internet and Television Association.
“Modernizing the emergency alert process is crucial to Americans’ safety and the READI Act is a well-constructed, collaborative approach to solving this critical problem. The internet industry commends Congress’s dedication to studying this issue and thanks Sen. Schatz, Sen. Thune, Rep. McNerney, Rep. Bilirakis, Rep. Gabbard, and Rep. Olson for their leadership on this important legislation,” said Michael Bloom, Vice President of Federal Government Affairs for the Internet Association.
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Rep. Jerry McNerney proudly serves the constituents of California’s 9th Congressional District that includes portions of San Joaquin, Contra Costa, and Sacramento Counties. For more information on Rep. McNerney’s work, follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @RepMcNerney.