• United States



When Disaster Strikes

Feb 01, 20032 mins
CSO and CISODisaster Recovery

How do you alert 290 million people to imminent disaster?

How do you alert 290 million people to imminent disaster? That’s the challenge facing the Partnership for Public Warning, a panel of academic and private-sector experts, which is examining ways to vastly improve the nation’s emergency warning systems.

The current methods of broadcasting emergency information vary—The National Weather Service warns of dangerous weather systems; the U.S. Geological Survey sends out alerts about natural disasters like earthquakes; the CIA, FBI and Department of Justice frequently issue separate warnings about criminal and terrorist activity; and the Environmental Protection Agency issues air quality alerts. The nation’s Emergency Alert System can reach only a small portion of the population, and citizens are so used to the annoying tests of the system that their first impulse is to change the channel.

What the nation needs, according to Peter Ward, chairman of the board of trustees for the Partnership for Public Warning, is a single system that can communicate through a variety of technology mediums as well as the capability to target that information to only those sectors of the country that will be directly affected. “What’s needed are professional standards,” says Ward. “Technology is not the problem; the technology is way ahead of everything else.” The partnership is bringing together the different stakeholders that have ownership of the current emergency systems in federal, state, local industry and emergency services to discuss and vet recommendations. The goal is to develop a system that will communicate with a broad range of devices—like TVs, cell phones and pagers—so that in an emergency devices that receive the emergency broadcast codes would respond appropriately. “Within 10 years, all Americans should have access to such a system,” says Ward.