FCC Approves Emergency Alert Text-Messaging System

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Cell phone users will get text message alerts of emergencies under a new nationwide alert system approved late Wednesday by the Federal Communications Commission, according to FCC spokesman Robert Kenny.

Under the plan, the FCC will appoint a federal agency to create the messages and pass them on to cell phone companies that choose to participate, an FCC representative said earlier. Once that agency is named, the participating cell phone providers would have 10 months to comply with the new system's requirements.

"It is essential that we support and advance new ways to share critical, time-sensitive information with them in times of crisis," FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin said in a written statement.

Earlier, the FCC representative explained how the plan would work. Cell phone companies that voluntarily opt into the system would send text-based alert messages to subscribers in response to three types of events:

*A disaster that could jeopardize the health and safety of Americans, such as a terrorist attack; these would trigger a national alert from the president of the United States

*Imminent or ongoing threats such as hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes

*Child abductions or Amber alerts.

T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint Nextel and AT&T all stated that they would be likely to opt into the alert system if it is passed by the FCC.

"While we obviously need to review the details of the FCC's decision, we look forward to offering mobile emergency alerts to our customers," AT&T said in a written statement.

A Sprint representative said the company would participate if the FCC adopts the plan exactly as it was recommended by an advisory group.

A federal agency, yet to be appointed, would create the messages and information that would go to the participating cell phone companies, an FCC spokesman said. Once that agency is named, all carriers that opt into the system will have to meet the requirements of the system within 10 months.

Subscribers would be able to opt out of receiving the messages, according to the current plan, and carriers would be required to provide vibration or audio attention signals with a distinct sound for people with disabilities.

The alert system plan was generated from an act Congress passed in 2006 that looked at emergency communications. The act directed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the FCC and other agencies to work together to enhance and expand the capabilities of emergency communications in the United States.

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