Obama to send Americans text messages under new PLAN alert system

Posted by Lydia Leavitt

The Obama admin is rolling out a text message alert system to warn of impending danger like terrorist attacks or severe weather advisories.

PLAN, short for Personalized Localized Alerting Network, was announced Monday as an extension of the Federal Communications Commission’s emergency alert system, which is currently based on TV and radio alerts. 

The text message alerts will be sent to Americans based on their geographic location no matter what carrier the person has, officials said.

These texts won’t just be from your best Facebook buddy Barack Obama, but instead, local, state, and national government officials will be able to send out public safety alerts through PLAN as well. Both FEMA and the FCC will oversee the text distribution.

PLAN texts will fall into three categories: messages issued by the president, texts regarding life threatening safety situations in certain geographic area, and missing child Amber alerts.

Wireless carriers will have the option to participate in the program if they so choose. So far, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon are all part of PLAN with FEMA estimating the technology to be ready for widespread launch around April 2012.

The development comes as a partnership between the FCC and Federal Emergency Management Agency with cooperation from cellular service provides. The FCC’s statement revealed that the PLAN system will first roll out in New York City by the end of the 2011 and into the rest of the country by the middle of next year.

FEMA said the system "ensures that emergency alerts will not get stuck in highly congested user areas, which can happen with standard mobile voice and texting services. PLAN enables government officials to target emergency alerts to specific geographic areas through cell towers (e.g. lower Manhattan), which pushes the information to dedicated receives in PLAN-enabled mobile devices."

Users don’t have to sign up to use the system but rather, participating carriers will automatically sign up users and plan to keep the PLAN text alerts completely free. Of course, consumers will have the option to block PLAN messages except for those issued by the president.

PLAN texts will even be given a unique signal and vibration by wireless carriers "which is particularly helpful to people with hearing or vision-related disabilities," FEMA said.

(Via LA Times