FCC votes to upgrade emergency alerts on phones with links & more information

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The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has voted to make a broad swath of improvements to the Wireless Emergency Alerts system, upgrading messages with more content and detail, including some limited interactive elements.

Alerts will now be able to contain up to 360 characters on networks with LTE speeds or better, up from a standard 90, Engadget reported on Thursday. Carriers must support embedded phone numbers and links, and some alerts — for instance about missing people — may contain photos.

The FCC is also aiming at better tailoring alerts, allowing them to be pushed in Spanish when appropriate, and target "more granular geographic areas." A new alert type, the Public Safety Message, will explain steps people should take in areas affected by natural disasters and other conditions.

On a broader level, the FCC is hoping to make it easier for state and local governments to test WEA technology and train their staff on it.

The need for upgraded alerts was highlighted in the case of Ahmad Khan Rahami, the suspect in recent bombing incidents in New York City and New Jersey. When the WEA system pushed out an alert to New York residents, all it contained was "WANTED: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-yr-old male. See media for pic. Call 9-1-1 if seen." Under the revised system, that alert could've shown a picture of Rahami and explained why he was wanted.


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