The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted to update the rules governing Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) in an effort to make them more useful.
The system, designed to alert citizens on their mobile devices of emergency-type situations or events, was most recently on display earlier this month when New Yorkers were warned of a dangerous bombing suspect on the loose.
As The Washington Post recounts, the suspect was eventually apprehended following a shootout with police. The alert that was pushed out to the public wasn’t terribly informative; in fact, the publication likened it to a text message that a teenager might send to a friend. What’s more, the alert lacked helpful information that might have led to his apprehension sooner such as a photo.
Authorities would no doubt have preferred to issue a more detailed alert but simply weren’t able to do so due to limitations of the WEA system. As such, the message that went out was ripe with abbreviations and didn’t include a picture of the suspect.
Thanks to today’s FCC vote, future alerts should be much more robust.
Under the new rules, authorities will have up to 360 characters at their disposal – up from just 90 currently and far less than even Twitter’s 140-character limit. Furthermore, authorities will be able to send alerts with greater geographic accuracy which means you’ll be less likely to receive an alert about a tornado that may be many miles away.
Future messages will also be available in Spanish and will cover additional events, we’re told.