Climate Change

Kamala Harris Presses FCC on Wireless Alert Failures During Wildfires

In the wake of widely reported shortcomings of emergency alert systems during the recent North Bay wildfires, California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris on Tuesday sent a pointed letter to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) raising concerns about the deficiencies.

The three-page letter sent to FCC chairman Ajit Pai notes that “emergency services in Northern California were not able to transmit lifesaving WEA (Wireless Emergency Alert) messages, because of significant technical deficiencies in the system.”

That system is the same one used to issue Amber Alerts and weather-related warnings with messages sent directly to cellphones in specific areas, unless users opt out.

The letter specifically notes that “because the WEA system does not enable precise geotargeting — a feature that has been standard in mobile applications for years — emergency services cannot send an evacuation message without reaching a large number of unaffected residents.”

As a result, they wrote, the local authorities that send the warnings “are caught in a bind between notifying individuals in imminent danger and risking mass panic.”