The primary way for government officials to get important news out to users has been to simply use the news channels. We've had events like the start of several wars in the last 20 years and the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our country, and news channels covered it all. You may remember the Emergency Broadcast System that gave the government direct access to broadcast mechanisms to inform the public. This week that system finally got replaced with a new text messaging feature.
The new system is called PLAN, or Personal Localized Alerting Network, and is being implemented by FEMA. There are three types of alerts the system will send out. Those are presidential alerts, alerts involving imminent threats to safety or life as in the case of some sort of attack or natural disaster, and Amber Alerts, which involves missing children. FEMA indicated that the last two alerts may be blocked by consumers, but the presidential alerts will be mandatory.
According to a CBS New York report, the alerts will be available on phones "equipped with special chips and software."
I am all for upgrading the current alerting system. The current system actually doesn't work. The Emergency Broadcast System, which was based on TV and radio transmissions, was decommissioned in 1997 and replaced by the Emergency Alert System. That system was never enabled nationwide though. With fewer people watching live TV or listening to radio, the only reliable way to reach most of the country is via text messages. Every cell phone supports it, and just about everyone with a phone has it with them most of the time.
You may wonder why they don't use SMS messages though, which would work on all current phones. Part of it is the unreliability of SMS. Though the vast majority of messages get through, not all do. Trust me. I've gotten in trouble for not stopping to get a few items at the grocery that were on a text message in my wife's "sent items" folder but not in my inbox. This explains the new system with a special chip and software. The new messages will work even in times of high network congestion.
I don't know about you but I am not terribly keen on having a special chip on my phone that is mandated by the U.S. government. They don't have an entirely trustworthy record when doing things that are designed to protect us. One only has to look at the TSA to see several examples where our rights are curtailed or taken away entirely in the name of protection. Now it will mandate hardware and software that must be on your phone and will require you to receive messages from the president. Everyone has the First Amendment right of free speech, but that goes hand in hand with the right not to listen to someone exercising that right. Not anymore.