June 9, 2022
By Debra Jordan | Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

One decade ago, in June 2012, people in Santa Fe, New Mexico heard a loud alarm and felt a vibration on their cell phones, calling attention to an incoming text-like message that warned of a flash flood. Since that first Wireless Emergency Alert, the unique combination of alerts and accompanying messages have become a standard part of emergency preparedness and response in the United States. Emergency managers across the country have sent more than 70,000 WEAs to warn communities of hurricanes, tornadoes, and other critical situations, saving lives in the process. Notably, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that 123 children have been recovered due to AMBER Alerts issued over WEA. That’s about one child saved for every month since the service was launched.

This month is time to celebrate the success of WEA over the past decade—while we continue pushing for improvements in the decade to come.

Last year, for example, the FCC established a first-of-its-kind partnership with FEMA and 10 other federal, state, and local agencies to assess WEA performance during a nationwide alerting test in August. The Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau analyzed the results and issued a report, finding that WEA generally performed well. We also identified areas where there is room for improvement. In particular, we recognized the need for localized WEA testing to provide a better understanding of how WEA is working at the community level and to generate data on WEA’s geotargeting performance, which will help ensure that the alerts reach all those and only those people in the areas targeted by emergency managers. That’s why we recently issued a call for alert originators to partner with us on local WEA tests. We are now reviewing the expressions of interest we received, with the goal of carrying out tests in a range of environments—including rural, urban, and suburban areas—in the third quarter of this year. We are thankful to the many emergency managers who responded.

In another recent move, the FCC is seeking comment on proposals to make WEA even more effective. In particular, the Commission proposed that wireless providers that participate in WEA report publicly on key performance aspects, including the reliability, speed, and accuracy of these messages. The Commission noted that by providing emergency management agencies and the public with visibility into how WEA is performing in their communities, we can promote the use and improvement of this life-saving tool. The comment period in this proceeding is currently underway, and we look forward to input from all stakeholders.

We appreciate all those whose efforts made WEA the powerful tool it is today—including FEMA, the National Weather Service, wireless providers, and state and local alert originators—as we work to strengthen it for the future.