As the United States continues to face the challenges of an active hurricane season, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is rolling out a new system to keep the public informed. Whereas in the past, emergency alerts have primarily been transmitted over the airwaves and received via radio, television, and the like, this system will send texts to cellphones. All major cell service providers have opted into an impending test of the system, which is slated for the early afternoon of September 20.
The system is billed as a means for the president to send emergency alerts directly to citizens, but — unlike other aspects of the administration — there’s little room for politicization here. The law that originally authorized the soon to be tested emergency alert system mandates that it “shall not be used to transmit a message that does not relate to a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster or threat to public safety.” In other words, Americans won’t be getting alerts with the frequency and inherent volatility of the president’s public statements delivered via Twitter.
The University of Southern California’s Karen North insisted:
‘If you separate this from the politics and personality of any individual president then this is a great idea and an amazing use of technology to reach everybody if they’re in harms way.’
After all, it’s not as though tech users who primarily rely on their phones are going to be well equipped to receive an important alert transmitted only over the airwaves.
As UCLA communications professor Tim Groeling put it:
‘A system like this seems necessary in an era where most people are disconnected from ‘live’ media like radio and television.’
The improvement in emergency alerts is a bright spot among controversy for the government’s response to emergencies. This past week, the massive Hurricane Florence slammed into the Carolina coast, and it’s already been confirmed to have killed a number of people in addition to bringing storm surges of up to 10 feet.
Donald Trump has already praised the government’s response to the storm — and the government response to the massive Hurricane Maria that slammed into Puerto Rico last year.
He’s gone so far off the deep end of his self-congratulation that he’s contested the official death toll, seemingly unwilling to accept the basic principles of how natural disaster responses work. He says that the nearly 3,000 people asserted to have died from the storm didn’t really, instead passing on from causes like old age and having their demise used to artificially inflate the death toll as a political attack against him.
That’s right — he’s claiming that reporting on people’s deaths is a political attack against him.
On a more practical level, FEMA has faced criticism for bungling their response to Maria big time. They were understaffed and ill-prepared for the storm, and developments on that front are still unfolding. For instance, the agency confirmed that millions of water bottles found abandoned in Puerto Rico were originally meant for Maria survivors.
In other words — there’s a long way for the government to go beyond the update of the emergency alert system.
Featured Image via YouTube screenshot