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The FCC may have delayed a vote on cable set-top boxes, but it’s made some headway when it comes to Wireless Emergency Alerts, the public service system used by government agencies to warn of kidnapping, natural disasters, and other emergencies.
The system, which debuted back in 2012, was recently used to warn New Yorkers to be on the lookout for a bombing suspect at large. The move provoked mild controversy because it was the first time the WEA system had been used as a digital ‘Wanted’ poster, according to The New York Times.
The FCC has voted to expand the capabilities of the WEA, which, as of now, only supports abbreviated text messages limited to 90 characters. After the overhaul, the WEA system will support 360 character blast alerts, meaning officials can include more details such as embedded hotlines, websites, and other relevant information into their public service announcements. In cases of child kidnappings or dangerous terrorist suspects on the loose, law enforcement officials will be able to include photos.
“In light of the need to respond in real time to terror threats, we can’t afford to have an emergency wireless response system that is stuck in the ’90s,” New York Senator Charles Schumer said, according to Yahoo News.
The WEA system will also have Spanish-language capabilities and support targeted messages to “more granular geographic areas,” according to Engadget, meaning New Yorkers will no longer receive warnings about tornadoes that are actually occurring miles away.
The FCC says the new features will be implemented over the course of the next 12 to 30 months. Test trials of the revamped system will take place in collaboration with wireless carriers such as Verizon and AT&T to see if whether it is compatible with their networks.