The Emergency Alert System, a familiar symbol of national security, is hobbled by outdated technology and in danger of being tuned out by a public weary of an expanding array of warnings, the Chicago Tribune reports. Fewer Americans nowadays hear the “This is only a test” warning aired monthly by television, radio and cable stations. A growing number of other government warnings–from color-coded terror alerts to weather advisories and missing-children reports–compete for public attention.
What’s more, emerging media such as satellite radio and digital radio and television aren’t required to participate in the national alert network established by President Harry Truman. The system was designed to enable the government to address citizens over broadcast stations during an emergency.
The shortcomings of the alert system were underscored during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The White House did not request emergency radio and television time, leaving Americans to get their information from news coverage.
A draft report by the Partnership for Public Warning in McLean, Va., found that the system is vulnerable to hacking, is used largely for weather-related messages, does not incorporate new technology such as the Internet and depends on communications equipment that, in some areas, is out of date.
“Our national ability to provide people at risk with useful information to reduce loss during all types of emergencies is severely limited,” warned the group, which includes local emergency managers and the electronics companies that operate warning systems.