Domestic Security: FEMA Phones Home

If every cell phone in the room starts ringing simultaneously, start running. In 2008, the Federal Emergency Management Administration plans to have a national digital alert system in place. In case of “events of national significance”-extreme natural disasters, terrorist attacks and the like-FEMA will set off cell phones, ping PDAs, and pop open media players on PCs connected to the Internet, as well as alert TV and radio stations. FEMA tested the new system in July.

“In the instance where we have an event of national
significance, it’s critical to reach out to American citizens as fast as possible,” says FEMA press secretary Aaron Walker.
“In this day and age, nearly every American carries a cell phone. It’s a great medium to get out information instantaneously, and help get Americans to safety and shelter.”

According to Walker, these digital alerts, which can be localized down to a district within a city, will not only be able to provide bulletins, but also Word documents or PDFs containing additional instructions such as evacuation routes. Don’t worry: FEMA won’t have your cell-phone number. FEMA will send alerts via satellite to cell-phone carriers like T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel, which will then transmit the alert to customers as text and voice messages. Anyone concerned that their cell-phone number will somehow be coughed up to the Feds-or prefers to be surprised when calamity strikes-
will be able to opt out.

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