N.Y. Unveils New CMAS Emergency Alert System

Published: May 9, 2011

NEW YORK — Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator W. Craig Fugate, top executives from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon and others convened at the World Trade Center site to announce PLAN: the Personal Localized Alerting Network.

PLAN is a free service that will allow customers with an enabled mobile device to receive geographically-targeted, text-like messages alerting them of imminent threats to safety in their area, according to a Federal Communications Comission (FCC) press release. This service will be available in New York City by the end of 2011, at least two calendar quarters before the rest of the nation.

Read about the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS).

PLAN ensures that emergency alerts will not get stalled by user congestion, which can happen with standard mobile voice and texting services. Authorized government officials can send messages, which participating wireless providers then push using their cell towers to enabled mobile devices in a targeted geographic area.

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“In both the public and private sectors, I’ve always believed in the need to harness technology in news ways, including ways that its designers hadn’t anticipated. The City’s opt-in Notify NYC system is a great example of that: it alerts people to dangers and delays via email and mobile devices, and it has become a national model of emergency communication,” said New York City Michael Bloomberg.

“Communications technology – and in particular mobile broadband – has the potential to revolutionize emergency response,” said FCC Chairman Genachowski. “Our communications networks need to be reliable and resilient in times of emergency.  The FCC is working with carriers to ensure that they are.” 

“Following the devastating tornadoes in the Southeast, we are witnessing yet again the critical role the public plays as part of our nation’s emergency management team. Making sure that they get useful and life-saving information, quickly and easily, right on their mobile phones, will help more people get out of harm’s way when a threat exists,” said Administrator Fugate. “This new technology could become a lifeline for millions of Americans and is another tool that will strengthen our nation’s resilience against all hazards.”

When PLAN is operational, customers in an area affected by an emergency who have a PLAN-capable mobile device will receive an alert of ninety characters or less.

In 2006, Congress passed the Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act, requiring carriers that choose to participate to activate PLAN technology by a deadline determined by the FCC, which is April 2012. Participants that will offer PLAN at least two calendar quarters ahead of schedule in New York City are AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.  Ninety percent of New York subscribers who have a PLAN-capable mobile device in these cities will be able to receive PLAN alerts by the end of 2011.

What is PLAN?

  • The Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN) is a new public safety system that allows customers who own an enabled mobile device to receive geographically-targeted, text-like messages alerting them of imminent threats to safety in their area.
  • This new technology ensures that emergency alerts will not get stuck in highly congested user areas, which can happen with standard mobile voice and texting services.  PLAN enables government officials to target emergency alerts to specific geographic areas through cell towers (e.g. lower Manhattan), which pushes the information to dedicated receives in PLAN-enabled mobile devices.
  • PLAN complements the existing Emergency Alert System, which is implemented by the FCC and FEMA at the federal level through broadcasters and other media service providers.  Like the Emergency Alert System, which is a modernization of the earlier Emergency Broadcast System (1963-1997), PLAN is intended to keep up with new technologies that can keep Americans safer.  This modern, integrated and complementary alert system provides significant public safety roles for broadcasters, cable service providers, wireless service providers and other service providers.
  • Wireless companies volunteer to participate in PLAN-technically called the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS).  PLAN is the result of a unique public/private partnership between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the wireless industry with the singular objective of enhanced public safety. 
  • The Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act requires participating wireless carriers to activate PLAN technology by a deadline determined by the FCC, which is April 2012.  Participants that will offer PLAN ahead of schedule include AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

Features of PLAN:

  • Geographically Targeted: A customer living in downtown New York would not receive a threat alert if they happen to be in Chicago when the alert is sent.  Similarly, someone visiting downtown New York from Chicago on that same day would receive the alert.  This requires a PLAN enabled mobile device and participation by the wireless provider in PLAN.
  • Customers Automatically Signed Up:  PLAN allows government officials to send emergency alerts to all subscribers with PLAN-capable devices if their wireless carrier participates in the program. Consumers do not need to sign up for this service.
  • Alerts Are Free: Customers do not pay to receive PLAN alerts.
  • Covers Only Critical Emergency Alerts:  Consumers will receive only three types of alerts from PLAN: (1) alerts issued by the President; (2) alerts involving imminent threats to safety of life; and (3) Amber Alerts.  Participating carriers may allow subscribers to block all but Presidential alerts.
  • Unique Signal and Vibration:  A PLAN alert will be accompanied by a unique attention signal and vibration, which is particularly helpful to people with hearing or vision-related disabilities.

Read the press release.

Read the fact sheet.

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