The geographically-targeted, text-like messages will automatically be sent to all enabled smartphones, regardless of whether a user signs up.
The Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN) will first launch in New York City and Washington D.C. and should be active nationwide by April or May of 2012, said Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
“It will provide a fast-lane for emergency alerts, so that even if there’s network congestion, the vital alerts get through” Genachowski said.
New York City has been running its own emergency system, Notify NYC since 2007, Joseph F. Bruno commissioner of the New York City Office of Emergency Management. The Notify NYC alerts are already available via email, SMS, telephone, Twitter or RSS feed.
With Notify NYC, “we are able to be granular enough to be able to send information out by ZIP code,” Bruno said. “Here in this program we’ll be granular enough to send out information by cell towers or combination of cell towers.”
Since no sign up is required and the messages can be sent based on location, even tourists will get the messages if they have the right type of phone.
Most phones are not yet enabled, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. But cell phone officials at the event said most new phones manufactured by 2012 will come with the software required to get the alerts.
“What the public will see different is the capability for FEMA, local officials from the mayor’s office, police department, the fire department in every city across the country, collecting, and disseminating information in a more timely fashion for people to use this in any kind of emergency,” Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg said.
Bruno called the national network an expansion of the Notify NYC system, and encouraged New Yorkers to keep using Notify NYC even when PLAN comes online. “Notify gives you a lot more,” he said.