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Public Safety News
Harris County Homeland Security & Emergency Management
News Release
Tuesday, January 30, 2018

FCC Approves Life-Saving Enhancements to Wireless Emergency Alerts

Public Safety Officials Applaud Step Forward

Harris County, Texas – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved rule changes today to the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system, including enhanced geo-targeting capabilities for messages. For years, local officials have collaborated with national public safety partners to advocate for these much needed changes. The rule changes require better geographic targeting of alerts to be in place by November 2019. 

“The rule changes initiated by Chairman Pai set a much needed course to keep the nation’s Wireless Emergency Alerts system a trusted life-saving tool for the public safety community, and is the single greatest improvement in years to the country’s alerts and warnings infrastructure,” said Francisco Sanchez, Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator at the Harris County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management.  “The timeline to get better geographic targeting in place by November 2019 is critical and utilizing the built-in technology of the mobile device is the quickest way to meet this goal.” 

Public safety officials strongly agree that the GPS technology already in today’s phones should also be used to tell you that you are in danger and what to do to stay safe.  Using the intelligence and location of the device is the easiest and quickest path forward. The deadly hurricanes of 2017, the Las Vegas shooting, the attempted terror attack in New York City, and the catastrophic California wildfires have highlighted the need for WEA to be revamped so it is in line with today’s technology. 

“The FCC’s rule changes will empower local public safety officials with the tools necessary to keep WEA relevant and their communities safer,” said Sanchez. “Equally as important, it will build trust in the system by citizens who rely on it for life-saving information. We look forward to working with the wireless industry to implement the new rules.”

Today’s rule changes require participating wireless providers to deliver WEA alerts to the target area specified by the alert originator with no more than a one-tenth of a mile overshoot. This enhanced geographic targeting requirement will go into effect on November 30, 2019.  The rules also require that alert messages remain available in a consumer accessible format on wireless devices for 24 hours which will enable the public to better review emergency information.

While public safety officials and the wireless industry have debated on the implementation timeline for WEA enhancements, Chairman Pai stated that the timeline was “just right,” for all of these changes to be implemented. Local officials strongly agree with Chairman Pai.

Commissioner Clyburn reemphasized the deadline for participating wireless providers to support Spanish-language messages and increase the length of alert messages from 90 to 360 characters by May 1, 2019. Commissioner Clyburn also championed key consumer education measures related to the rule.

The support of national public safety organizations, including APCO, Big City Emergency Managers, International Association of Emergency Managers, National Emergency Management Association, the United States Conference of Mayors, and the National Emergency Number Association, highlight the importance and necessity of these enhancements.

More information on the FCC’s governance and public comment of WEA can be found under Docket 15-91 at

Remembering Jim Guidry

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