FCC changes how emergency alerts appear on your phone

'National Alerts' will include FEMA warnings.

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A test text message of the Presidential Alert, National Wireless Emergency Alert System is seen on a mobile phone in New York City, New York, U.S. October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
REUTERS/Mike Segar

Get ready to say goodbye to Presidential Alerts — in a manner of speaking. The FCC has adopted rules that replace the earlier warnings with "National Alerts" that include both the earlier non-optional messages as well as FEMA Administator alerts for natural disasters and similar crises. As the agency explained in March, this lets officials honor a new requirement for the FEMA alerts without having to create a new category or make significant "technical changes."

The new rules also implement a handful of policy updates to reduce the chances of a Hawaii-style false emergency alert. States will get a checklist of info for their Emergency Alert System plans, along with a new FCC process to review those plans. The new move also clears up the way organizations can repeat alerts, and "encourages" states to form Emergency Communications Committees that help manage alerts. And if a government office slips up, it now has clear permission to report those alerts to an around-the-clock FCC center.

You might get these new warnings under the old Presidential Alert label until your phone gets a software update reflecting the change.

This should lead to a wider (if not necessarily more frequent) range of alerts on your phone. It also removes some of the connotations of the previous system — nationwide messages don't necessarily reflect the President's views, and may come from a designated official rather than the Oval Office. It may look like a small change, but it could have a significant impact on alerts going forward.

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