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Emergency Alerts Via Text Messaging 65

Posted by Soulskill
from the idk-my-bff-ahmadinejad? dept.
The New York Times is reporting that a plan has been approved by Federal regulators to use text messaging to distribute emergency alerts. The system is scheduled to go online by 2010, and will include three different types of alerts: national alerts (such as terrorist attacks), imminent threats (such as natural disasters), and Amber alerts. From the Times: "The plan stems from the Warning Alert and Response Network Act, a 2006 federal law that requires upgrades to the emergency alert system. The act requires the Federal Communications Commission to develop ways to alert the public about emergencies. 'The ability to deliver accurate and timely warnings and alerts through cellphones and other mobile services is an important next step in our efforts to help ensure that the American public has the information they need to take action to protect themselves and their families prior to, and during, disasters and other emergencies,' the commission chairman, Kevin J. Martin, said after the plan was approved."
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Emergency Alerts Via Text Messaging

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  • Ads (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrNaz (730548) * on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:45AM (#23033640) Homepage
    I get text alerts from my cell network letting me know about remaining talk time etc. Recently they have started embedding targetted ads in them. Perhaps that'll happen with this system too?

    "National Alert:
    An attack is being carried out in Washington. The White House has been bombed.
    This week only, half price survival gear at Mitchell's Disposals. Compasses, water bottles, camp stoves and outdoor gear as well as army surplus equipment. Get it while it's hot!"
    • by QuantumG (50515) *
      If the white house was bombed, you honestly think they'd tell anyone?

      • Whitehouse? What's a Whitehouse? *nudges some more rubble under the gigantic rug* ooooh THE Whitehouse? That's a couple of blocks down the road, you can't miss it.
      • by MrNaz (730548) *
        If I posted a joke on Slashdot, do you honestly think you'd know it was a joke?
      • Do you honestly think anyone would care?
    • by dwye (1127395)

      "National Alert: An attack is being carried out in Washington. The White House has been bombed. This week only, half price survival gear at Mitchell's Disposals. Compasses, water bottles, camp stoves and outdoor gear as well as army surplus equipment. Get it while it's hot!"

      This message is complete nonsense. It exceeds GSM's 160 7bit char limit.

      Perhaps if they sent it as multiple pages?

      • This message is complete nonsense. It exceeds GSM's 160 7bit char limit.

        PREZ HERE, NYC NUKED 2DAY. I FUKD UP AGIN!. SRY. GB.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    SUM1 SET US UP DA BOMB
  • What about opting-out of such service? The spooks already have television and radio under cover. Why should you want it in your pocket?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bmorton (170477)
      From TFA:

      Cellphone customers would be able to opt out of the program. They also may not be charged for receiving alerts.
      • by ameyer17 (935373)
        I sure hope that by "may not be charged for recieving alerts" they mean "the cell phone companies are obligated to deliver these propaga^H^H^H^H^H^H^Halerts at no charge to the consumer"
        Sadly, I doubt this will actually be the case.
        • by bmorton (170477)
          Also from TFA:

          Carriersâ(TM) participation in the system, which has strong support from the industry, is voluntary.

          And:

          There would be three types of messages, according to the rules.

          The first would be a national alert from the president, probably involving a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

          The second would involve âoeimminent threatsâ that could include natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes or university shootings.

          The third would be reserved for child abductions, so-called Amber alerts.

          Theoretically, at least, all of these involve things that have to actually happen before an alert is sent.

          • by ameyer17 (935373)
            I'm fairly sure they could invent a terrorist threat to scare us with via txt spam*, or that the President could decide to use this for political spam. Both of those would probably be considered propaganda by some.

            *I'm not saying all the alleged terrorist threats aren't based on fact or at least reasonable suspicion, but there have been some pretty ridiculous threats since 9/11 (model airplanes loaded with explosives, anyone?)
            • by ksheff (2406)
              But how many times have they used the emergency broadcast system to cut into TV & radio broadcasts for those events? They are just trying to bring that concept to other devices since not everyone is listening to radio or watching TV.
          • Re:Opt-out? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by 1u3hr (530656) on Friday April 11, 2008 @07:55AM (#23034674)
            There would be three types of messages, according to the rules.

            The first would be a national alert from the president, probably involving a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

            The second would involve imminent threats that could include natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes or university shootings.

            The third would be reserved for child abductions, so-called Amber alerts.


            Does anyone else find it absurd to equate the abduction of one child with a natural disaster? I realise that to THINK OF THE CHILDREN is mandatory in any political initiative, as of course is THINK OF THE TERRORISTS (though in this case the latter is actually justified), but sending out alerts to the entire population (even if geographically limited) every time a child goes missing seems to be both pointless and annoying. There are a myriad of crimes committed every day that are equally as serious. People will opt out after a short time after being deluged with the equivalent of a Fox news-ticker of crime-as-it-happens crawling across their phone all day long.
            • by ksheff (2406)
              People sign up for the Amber alert things now, so I guess if they are planning on tier 3 messages being completely opt in, it wouldn't be any different. Some lawyers would love to have a crime as it happens news feed on their phones.
            • by bmorton (170477)
              The idea behind the amber alert is to inform as many people as possible about an abducted child and their abudctee so that there are many more eyes looking for the child.

              The alerts aren't issued everytime a child goes missing. They are sent out when a case of an abducted child meets certain criteria [wikipedia.org].

          • There would be three types of messages, according to the rules.

            The first would be a national alert from the president, probably involving a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

            The second would involve âoeimminent threatsâ that could include natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes or university shootings.

            The third would be reserved for child abductions, so-called Amber alerts.

            Theoretically, at least, all of these involve things that have to actually happen before an alert is sent.

            Child abduction? Yes.

            Nuclear attacks and natural disasters? Not so much.

            We can detect nuclear attacks some time before they hit us, and things like tornado warnings already exists. I live in a place that gets a lot of tornadoes, and it isn't uncommon for the television to suddenly start beeping and telling us that tornadoes are likely to form in our area.

            • by bmorton (170477)
              As far as I know, it's not uncommon for the TV to light up like a Christmas tree in the event of an emergency anywhere in the US. However, I'm sure there are many people who have cell phones but don't pay very much attention to broadcast media. Presumably, those sorts of alerts are just as useful to those people.
        • Its a text message dude this isn't the biggest money grab in the world. Even if they counted it as yours most people wouldnt even get charged for it (100 free text msgs with most phone plans). I think people on /. have seen the government screw people so often that they are growing a bit paranoid. Government is usually incompetent not malicious. Companies are both but they probably loose out on this deal. In the end the messaging service warning people before they get hit by a wall of water seems like a goo
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by VShael (62735)
        *ring*

        Bob? Our petty cash reserves are low and it's Friday. You know? Hookers and blow-day? Yeah, kidnap a child and send out 3 million amber alerts. That'll raise enough cash to see us for tonights festivities....
    • I think if i were in a katrina like (disaster) situation i'd like a "Goto high ground or joo gunna die nub -- Tha Government" message. It would be definitely nicer than getting owned. Also i'd likely opt out of the amber alert, which you can do, rtfa.
    • but if I am going to be in a location where they suspect terrorist activity, I'd like to know so I can get the *&^% out!
  • by VincenzoRomano (881055) on Friday April 11, 2008 @04:13AM (#23033760) Homepage Journal
    This means that the messaging infrastructures are to be really highly available under all circumstances.
    Which seems no to be the case at least for GSM/3G cellular networks where these infrastructures are very complex.
    • by Rural (136225)
      I would guess they plan to use Cell Broadcast (think of it as SMS multicast), the same technology that some GSM operators use to tell you the approximate area (Area Info).
    • by g0dsp33d (849253)
      Also judging by 9/11, there was a huge cell phone outage in the area as there were cell towers on top of the towers (iirc) and there was a massive spike in call attempts. Throwing a mass of txt messages might exaggerate the issue instead of helping.

      Secondly, if they are too common people will begin to ignore them. Conversely, if there is a serious threat, the normal media does a decent job of getting the information out. I recall having heard about 9/11 within 20 minutes of the attack even though I was
  • Yeah, sure (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FoolsGold (1139759) on Friday April 11, 2008 @04:18AM (#23033792)
    It's only natural mobile networks will become flooded during an emergency that this will prove useless.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mapkinase (958129)
      They become jammed AFTER awareness reached the masses.

      NYC was completely jammed on 2001/9/11 for several hours because everybody was calling.

      I agree with you with small change:

      I guess the system would work good when only few people know what is going on and the lines are not jammed yet. In some situations it is useless, like when the catastrophe have already happened with thousands of texting and more importantly, videoing witnesses. In other situations, like "There is an intercontinental ballistic missile
      • They become jammed AFTER awareness reached the masses.
        That's about two seconds after simultaneous notifications are sent to the masses.
    • Normal SMS could flood the network (I heard of new year messages that needed more that a week to be delivered), but SMS boradcast simply use the common signalisation channel (the one the phones monitor every couple of s to be warned of incoming calls), but instead of "call for phone #xxx, please report on slot n", it reads "good news everyone!" so everyphone monitoring that stations gets the message very efficiently.
    • That's a possibility, but I can say first-hand that text messages on mobile networks was how we all communicated after Hurricane Katrina, and that was an emergency if I ever saw one. Now maybe in a higher population city there may be problems...
  • by Overkill Nbuta (1035654) on Friday April 11, 2008 @04:32AM (#23033870)
    Im currently in engineering at the U of C, and this semester they actually implemented this to warn students of situations (anything from fires to the worst case of shootings). This method does make a bit of sense, as traditional ways of warning such as emails or phone calls or TV can take a amount of time to be noticed while Most people notice a text message immediately.
    • Same deal up here at loyola, theyve got a whole thing set up with emails, text messages, phone calls, probably even something else. Got instituted after the NIU shooting.
    • I'm a student at WVU, and we recently implemented a similar system for emergency alerts here. There's a website you check for detailed information (http://emergency.wvu.edu/) and they send out texts and emails if there is an on-campus emergency, major off-campus criminal activity, or severe weather.

      Interestingly enough, a few days after this system was implemented, there was a major shooting at a local apartment complex (botched robbery, 1 dead, another injured) and the text system functioned well for shor
    • As with any good college system, however, it can and will be abused. As someone who works for an IT Department for a community college, I can vouch for that personally. Once the Marketing Department gets wind of this new way to contact students, they will be all over it like white on rice. A system usefulness is inversely proportional to the number of non-IT people wanting to utilize the system for their own means.
    • Virginia Tech has this now as well. It can optionally also send instant messages, email, and call a cell, dorm and/or other phone. It probably does other marginally-useful things as well.
    • by TGTilde (874930)
      We had a system implemented last quarter just like that at Cal Poly SLO. It's an opt-in system. I'm not sure how many people have signed up yet, I haven't. The central area of campus is quite small and a disturbance would be easy to hear and smoke easy to see. Not to mention my engineering building doesn't get cell service inside the rooms so I wouldn't really get it in time to be useful.
    • Except that warning people about shootings is unlikely to cause a rational reaction from the warned. There is a reason why people are supposed to stay where they are until they are "retrieved" by the police. It's called not having targets running around for the shooter to shoot. Not to mention that people running around would also be a problem for the police.

      The fact of the matter is that if there is something like a shooting on campus, if you're in the "danger zone", you'll hear the shots long before th
  • Fraudulent messages? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NeuralAbyss (12335) on Friday April 11, 2008 @05:05AM (#23033978) Homepage
    I'd be curious to see what sort of authentication the networks are pushing for this sort of broadcast message - will third parties be able to forge the sender phone number/name?

    I frequently receive spam on my mobile by SMS and "service messages" (SMS with integrated hyperlinks) which purport to be from a textual name rather than a sender telephone number.

    Given the propensity for telco networks to be less than secure with regards to CNI information, I'd hope that tighter restrictions on sender CNI in SMS is adopted if this plan goes ahead - with the level of sheeple out there, a targeted social engineering attack against a public event could cause chaos. Take, for example, the WVU emergency alert system mentioned in another comment [slashdot.org] - if someone were to forge a message about a school shooting to a decent number of students, I could quite easily see the day's classes being disrupted. Extrapolate that to a national warning system.. and there's a lot to be done before I'd trust a SMS coming in from "Federal Warning System" regarding a serious incident.
    • You can easily send SMS for free through a web interface and provide whatever name and phone number in the sender fields, so yes, even for a lot of targets. Now, tricking a GSM cell to send a SMS broadcast to all the phones it serves might be a little more complex.
  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Friday April 11, 2008 @07:37AM (#23034598)
    will the cell phone companies make it 100% free and make it work even when you have texting turned off as I was getting a lot of spam that I was paying $0.10+ a text on my phone.
    • I had to call Sprint several times to turn off my text messages since I was getting on the order of 100 spam messages a month, resulting in > $10 additional charges. It took a while because:
      • They couldn't believe that someone would not want text messages.
      • They couldn't believe that those messages were spam. After all, how could someone get my phone number? (they started coming on day one) I must have wanted those messages!
      • They couldn't believe that their blacklist tool wasn't working. Every origina
  • Our new head honcho, Mayor Nutter... yes, that it is real name... just implemented this [philly.com] on the 5th.

    There are two methods [to sign up]: Either online at www.ReadyNotifyPA.org, or on a cell phone by texting your county code (BUCKS, CHESCO, DELCO, MONTCO or PHILA) and dialing 411911.

    411911 indeed. Other than wondering just what the actual volume will be - will i get a (for me, charged) text every time there's a "severe weather alert" i.e. RAIN, frex - do i really wanna give City Hall my cell number? Or is

  • I get txt alerts from ESPN/CBS and others on sports scores. The great thing is when I get an alert on Thursday about a football game played on Sunday.

    I can envision a world where people are getting Katrina warnings 3 days after the storm hits.

    The system is way too ad-hoc and fragile to support mission critical alerts of upcoming disasters.

  • This sounds like a terrible idea to me. Do we really need, for example, all 600,000 people in Boston to receive a simultaneous "PANIC!" message? I mean, look what happened when we had black boxes with blinking LEDs to contend with!

    So I think knowing what's going on is important, but is it logical to tell everyone at exactly the same time?

    • If you *really* wanna tackle the issue of who to tell first, you're far braver than i'll ever be....
  • Sounds pretty similar to something already in place... http://www.emergencyemail.org/ [emergencyemail.org]
  • FTA: "The service could be in place by 2010."

    Meanwhile, there's http://emergencyeamil.org/ [emergencyeamil.org], which is opt-in. It works pretty well, though they've been slow to update their warning zones when the government (NWS, actually) shifts the boundaries around. They're a public-private partnership, and a significant percentage of states and counties in the U.S. are already signed up.

    During peak hours, sometimes I've had emergency warning text messages delayed by over 10 minutes. If the cellular infrastructure

  • I first heard this an NPR last week as having an opt-in/opt-out feature. How will the feds know who gets the messages? Presuming this only send text messages to citizens (at first)won't they need to have a database of all the IDs?

    Or, maybe my tinfoil hat is on too tight.
  • From TFA:

    There would be three types of messages, according to the rules.

    The first would be a national alert from the president, probably involving a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

    The second would involve âoeimminent threatsâ that could include natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes or university shootings.

    The third would be reserved for child abductions, so-called Amber alerts.

    Did anyone else find it a bit odd that "university shootings" are classified under "natural disasters"?

    I find this to be a little bit shocking, as I would consider such a thing to be closer in nature to a terrorist attack than a tornado. In fact, in almost all cases (like Virginia Tech) I think that "terrorist attack" would be a perfectly fine classification.

    I think the problem here is that the term "terrorists" has become synonymous with "crazy Arabs".

    • by zegota (1105649)
      I think it's more of a case of poor grammar. The sentence should probably read: "The second would involve imminent threats that could include natural disasters, like hurricanes and tornadoes, or university shootings."
  • I am from cancun mexico, and we do get some hurricanes every now and then, I remember receiving text messages from the government alerting me as to the warning level color at the moment whenever a hurricane came close. It is a pre set code, so most people could figure out if they had to start checking their food and water supplies or start boarding their windows. These messages were simple enough and very informative, I believe it could work in other places or for some other natural disasters.
  • The Ohio State University does this now on a smaller scale. It's new this year, but they've tested it a couple times and it's entertaining when everyone's phone goes off in a short period of time. It txt's and/or calls(you can choose) everyone who has signed up, emails everyone, and calls all dorm phones.
  • For Amber alerts, anyway, there's http://wirelessamberalerts.org/ [wirelessamberalerts.org]. If you're on Verizon you can text 'AMBER your zip code' to 26237.

    I smell bacon.

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