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Schumer to FCC: Emergency alert system stuck in the 1990s

Sen. Chuck Schumer calls on the Federal Communications

Sen. Chuck Schumer calls on the Federal Communications Commission to finalize a list of long-sitting proposals, such as including multimedia images or links, that would modernize the Wireless Emergency Alert System during a news conference at his Manhattan office on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. Credit: Charles Eckert

A federal alert system used when the Chelsea bombing suspect was on the run earlier this month is stuck in the 1990s and needs to be updated to include photographs, New York’s senior senator said Sunday.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) lamented at a midtown Manhattan news conference that the Wireless Emergency Alert system, which texted messages to millions of New Yorkers about Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, is limited to 90 characters and didn’t provide the suspect’s image.

The text message read only, “WANTED: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-yr-old male. See media for pic. Call 9-1-1 if seen.”

Schumer added that he learned in a recent FBI briefing that Rahami likely acted alone in the New York and New Jersey attacks and wasn’t “urged” to plant bombs by a terrorist group.

That is not to say that someone else wasn’t aware of Rahami’s intentions and that the suspect wasn’t inspired by a group such as the Islamic State, Schumer said.

He said he was told that authorities haven’t yet been able to interview Rahami because he remains hospitalized and is “in and out of consciousness.”

He called on the Federal Communications Commission to revamp the Wireless Emergency Alert system, including expanding the number of characters to 360 from 90, embedding phone numbers and URLs, and including photographs and multimedia.

Representatives for the FCC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“In this era of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, our wireless emergency alert system needs to get as smart as our phones and be updated, so it can deliver photos and other media that has information that can save lives,” Schumer said.

The lawmaker acknowledged that other factors, not the text alerts, led to the capture of Rahami. But Schumer questioned whether the suspect could have been caught sooner if the system were modernized.


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