Government unveils PLAN emergency messaging in New York City

The federal government will roll out by the end of the year an emergency warning system to reach the public with geographically targeted warning messages on their mobile devices, the FCC said May 10.

The system known as PLAN, Personal Localized Alerting Network, aims to cut through the wireless network congestion that can accompany an emergency and give government officials, including the president of the United States, direct access to mobile phone users.

The announcement of PLAN, made at the site of the World Trade Center in New York City, which will see the nation’s first deployment of PLAN, was attended by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator W. Craig Fugate and leading executives from the nation’s largest wireless providers.

PLAN, a free service, allows mobile customers with an enabled mobile device to receive geographically targeted text messages alerting them of imminent threats to safety in their area.

In 2006, Congress passed the Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act, requiring carriers that choose to participate to activate PLAN technology by a deadline determined by the FCC, which is April 2012. Participants that will offer PLAN at least two calendar quarters ahead of schedule in New York City are AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

Consumers will receive three types of alerts from PLAN: alerts issued by the president, alerts involving imminent threats to safety of life and Amber Alerts. Carriers participating in PLAN may allow subscribers to block all but presidential alerts.

To sidestep network congestion problems, PLAN transmits official emergency alerts to specific geographic areas via cell towers that push the information to dedicated receivers in PLAN-enabled mobile devices.

In a press statement announcing PLAN, Fugate said ensuring the public gets “useful and life-saving information, quickly and easily, right on their mobile phones” will help them get out of harm’s way. “This new technology could become a lifeline for millions of Americans and is another tool that will strengthen our nation’s resilience against all hazards,” said Fugate.