US FCC Revises Disaster Phone Alert Regulations in Light of False Alert Mishap in Hawaii

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The US Federal Communications Commission has approved a new regulation that will require wireless providers sending messages through the Wireless Emergency Alert System to target only individuals that will be affected by natural disasters or any other national crisis, according to Marguerite Reardon of c|net.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said overbroad alerting results in public confusion, forcing people to discontinue receiving alerts, complicate rescue efforts because of traffic congestion, and call centers that are inundated with calls from the public.

The revised regulation comes in the wake of Hawaii’s false missile alert about an incoming ballistic missile which caused widespread panic.

The FCC also presented preliminary results of its investigation on the false missile alert, which the agency said was the result of human error and poorly designed interfaces. The person-in-charge of the alert misunderstood instructions and thought the alert was genuine.

The new ruling was instigated by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris who told the commission that local authorities in the state were hesitant to send out alerts during 2017’s bushfires.

The New York Times reported that the emergency management services worker who sent the false alert had already been fired. State officials said the fired employee has a long history of poor performance and had been a source of concern for the state agency for ten years, and had twice confused emergency drills with real-world events.

The worker sent the false alert to all the residents and visitors of Hawaii which triggered panic and confusion all over Hawaii, with people desperately contacting family members and seeking shelter.

The worker also did nothing when ordered by superiors to cancel the alert to prevent it from going to phones that have not received it yet.

It took 38 minutes to send a second alert informing Hawaiian residents that the first one was a mistake.