A bill that would revise some of the rules governing how the Emergency Alert System operates made quick advancement this week in Washington. A Senate committee unanimously voted in favor of advancing the proposed Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement Act or “READI Act” (S. 2693) without debate. If approved, the bill would, among other things, require radio and TV stations to repeat alerts issued by the President, rather than limit them to their single airing. The bill would also require the Federal Emergency Management Agency to expand the reach of EAS into audio and video online streaming services, such as Spotify, Pandora and Netflix. The proposal would also establish a reporting system for false alerts, like the one that occurred in Hawaii, so that the Federal Communications Commission can track when they occur and examine their causes.
Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and John Thune (R-SD) reintroduced the legislation last month, saying the January 2018 false missile alert that was sent in Hawaii exposed a need to update emergency alerting rules. The bill would also eliminate giving cell phone customers the ability to opt-out of receiving certain federal alerts, including missile alerts, on mobile phones.
Despite potential new requirements on radio and TV stations for multiple alert airings, the bill has had the backing of the National Association of Broadcasters, since it was first proposed last year. The legislation also has the backing of the NCTA – The Internet and Television Association, the Internet Association, CTIA – The Wireless Association, and the Wireless Infrastructure Association. An earlier version of the READI Act passed the Senate in December 2018 but failed to secure passage in the House (H.R. 4856). Companion legislation is once again pending in the House.
The Hawaii false missile alert incident led the FCC last year to adopt several new rules regarding EAS. They included giving radio and TV stations and any other EAS participants up to 24 hours to report to the FCC’s operation center after discovering they transmitted or sent a false alert to the public.