Emergency warning systems to get overhaul

President Bush has ordered an overhaul of the nation's public warning systems. He has instructed Michael Chertoff, secretary of Homeland Security, to oversee the project.

Acknowledging a critical weakness not addressed since the 2001 World Trade Center attack and exposed again last year by Hurricane Katrina, Bush told Chertoff to implement a new policy “to ensure that under all conditions the president can communicate with the American people,” including in cases of war, terrorist attack, natural disaster or other public danger.

The presidential mandate follows mounting criticism that the nation's alert systems are outmoded relics of the Cold War. The first system was set up in 1951 to enable the president to address the public in the event of a nuclear attack through a chain of television and radio broadcasters.

The White House order calls for “an integrated alert and warning system that reaches as many Americans as possible through as many forms of communication as possible — television, radios, PDAs, cell phones, etc.,” said Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke.

The program will be managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Analysts have said that bureaucratic inertia and turf fighting among government agencies and resistance from industry to new mandates have stymied changes since 2001.

Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the NAB, said, “We support strengthening the EAS system, to the extent that it's flexible, reasonable and works within the constraints of the existing system.”