Barack Obama to be able to text terror warnings to all US phones
President Barack Obama will be able to send any mobile phone in the United States a text message warning of imminent danger, from a terror attack to a natural disaster, under plans announced on Tuesday.
By Alex Spillius
From next year, new phones and other hand-held devices will be required to be fitted with special chips to receive the alerts, which will also be sent by state and local authorities. Users will be able to opt out of every type of alert except those from the president, said the Federal Communications Commission.
The system will include alerts about missing children and will supersede all other phone traffic to avoid delays.
Mr Obama, who has been dubbed the “texter-in-chief” thanks to his devotion to his BlackBerry and heavy use of text messages during his 2008 campaign, may face criticism from libertarians for the compulsory nature of the presidential alerts.
But officials see the system, known as Personal Localized Alerting Network, or Plan, as a logical progression from alerting the public via radio and television.
“The lesson that was reinforced on 9/11 was the importance of getting clear and accurate information to the public during a crisis,” said Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, where the scheme will be deployed first next year. It will then move to Washington and most other large cities.
He called the alerts a “quantum leap forward in using technology to help keep people safe”.
The warnings will have a unique signal and vibration, said officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The announcement of the new emergency alert system came in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death and a subsequent rise in security concerns in the city al-Qaeda attacked to devastating effect nearly ten years ago.