“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

Emergency Announcement System – EAS

Today was the first National Emergency Announcement System test. We’re all familiar with the EAS system. It is what tells us about the imminent hurricane or tornado heading our way, or when there is a Northeaster. Today for the first time there was a national test. That means that if there is something that happens that effects us across all the nation from Hawaii to Key West we can get an announcement. I’m thinking the only time this will be relevant is an Armageddon type scenario.

But putting that aside it really brought up in my head an idea that we should probably push to develop.

EAS has a huge flaw. It requires being attached to a radio or TV. However, a growing critical mass of people are never on a major broadcast system and thus EAS will never get its very important message to a core unit of the population.

So I’d like to pose to the powers that be (if someone knows a power that be, please forward this to them):

  • Can we have EAS send SMS (free of charge) to everyone with a mobile number?
  • Can we figure out a way that major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can force messages through their proxy servers to get messages out across all platforms:
    • browser
      • desktop
      • mobile
    • Internet TV
      • Google TV
      • Apple TV
      • Roku
      • Boxee
      • TiVO
      • Direct Internet TV
      • SatTV app systems
    • Native apps
      • iOS
      • Android
      • BBOS
      • WP7
      • Symbian
    • Game Consoles
      • XBox
      • Sony Play Station
      • Nintendo Wii

As we acknowledge the realities of contemporary content consumption, if we are truly serious about an emergency announcement system that reaches as many people as possible, don’t we have to figure this out. I know it is not easy, and it will (like EAS today) have to have federal mandates in order to make it happen, but isn’t the engineering & design challenge alone worth doing it, let alone the good it will have on society as a whole?

Your thoughts?

(ps. I’m really surprised I’m the first person I’ve heard/read ever mention this. It feels kinda obvious, no?)

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  • http://twitter.com/robfay Rob Fay

    What you’re proposing is a “push” method of communication on pay services. Radio and tv have been historically unpaid services that are regulated by the federal government. In addition, using the medium of unpaid radio or tv theoretically reaches all people, including the impoverished.

    With that said, I agree with you that tv and radio may not be the primary method for many to learn of an emergency. But do we need to add some new policy or method or can we use existing methods? If something were truly an alert, given the information age that we are in, it would be pushed to many of the information channels you describe if possible.

  • http://davemalouf.com/ Dave malouf

    Hi Matt, you do bring up a good point. Of course, the airwaves of radio & TV are public and leased at the discretion of the governments in which country the content over them are being controlled. But the same is true of Cellular airwaves as well. These are also leased. And like broadcast stations that provide us content on an ad rate basis Wireless vendors are providing content on a subscriber rate basis. Further, almost no one in the US at any rate uses free mechanisms of TV or Radio any more. Cable & Satellite are the norm for both practically yet we still receive EAS over those mechanisms w/o incident.

    As to your other assumption that in a “true” emergency people get the information one way or another. I think in the case of a hurricane where there are days ahead of notice a high enough (not sure what exactly that value is) percentage do get notice, the same cannot be said of dangers that occur more instantaneously such as tornadoes. Having moved from a relatively tornado free environment to one where it isn’t all that bad, but definitely more common, I’ve been struck at a few things:
    1. That if you’re not watching TV or listening to the radio you are screwed.
    2. Even air raid sirens of the past don’t work with noisier homes (music, vacuuming) etc.

    I’m not sure how using the SMS system couldn’t easily be done in this case. I know here at SCAD people give the school appropriate contact information and EAS messages are community via the school to all the SCAD community here. However, I have noticed that these attempts are quite delayed and again in the arena of tornadoes a delay can be very meaningful.

    I don’t know why the Cell operators can’t volunteer to connect their systems to the EAS and send out free of charge text messages over a network like SMS that they are already ripping people off on, anyway.

    As to the “through the browser” suggestions, I can see a ton of complications, but I definitely see getting through them as viable and considering what EAS is for, a necessary intrusion by the government.


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