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Feds unveil mobile emergency alert system in NYC


PLAN Credit: Office of the Mayor

Calling it a “quantum leap forward,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg gathered with federal officials Tuesday at Ground Zero to unveil a new cell phone emergency alert system being launched in New York City and Washington, D.C. by the end of the year.

Various warnings — from terrorist attacks to tornadoes to traffic accidents — would be blasted as text messages.

“Given the kinds of threats made against New York City at the World Trade Center, Times Square and other places popular with visitors and tourists, we’ll be even safer when authorities can broadcast warnings to everyone in a geographic area,” Bloomberg said.

Will all cell phones get the alerts?

Eventually, yes. The phones require a certain type of chip and software, which are being built into newer phone models. Certain current smartphones, such as the iPhone 4, already have the circuitry, but still require the software update.

How does it work?

Alerts are sent as 90-character texts. Everyone will automatically get them, unless a mobile user decides to opt out. Emergency alerts from the White House, however, must still be received. Alerts are sent based on location. For instance, mobile users in Times Square who pick up reception from nearby cell towers would receive alerts about that area.

Will this overload the telecom system?

Despite instances where cell phone communication can get jammed, such as during 9/11, these alerts will get through even if there’s a high call volume, officials said. They won’t clog the regular system because they’ll be sent on a different communication line than normal text messages.

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