On Wednesday, October 3, more than 225 million Americans received a text message they were not able to block. Prior to the message being sent out, there was a lot of concern that President Trump was testing an unblockable system in an attempt to prove his reach to the American people. In reality, President Trump had nothing to do with the text messages.
There seemed to be some confusion because the text messages were labeled ahead of their test as a “Presidential Alert.”
Here’s what the system is really used for and the scope for which it can be used.
What Is The Wireless Emergency Alert System?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was granted permission for use in 2015 when Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) proposed the “Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Modernization Act. With a focus on public safety, President Barack Obama signed the alert program into law.
What’s The Purpose Of FEMA’s New System?
Despite some worry, the system was not created in order to allow the President to send messages on a whim but we’ll get to that shortly. In reality, the Wireless Emergency Alert system allows government officials to send important, potentially life-saving messages, during a time of crisis. Those crisis moments include natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and other threats to public safety.
Messages Can Only Be Sent By Certain Groups
As the law currently stands, messages via the unblockable system can only be sent by officials from federal, state, tribal, and local governments.
Is Trump Going To Treat The System Like An Unblockable Twitter?
Thankfully, the extent to which the system can be used is very limited. The current law states:
Except to the extent necessary for testing the public alert and warning system, the public alert and warning system shall not be used to transmit a message that does not relate to a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster or threat to public safety.
Opting Out Isn’t Possible
If you don’t want AMBER alerts or flood warnings you can turn those options off in your phone settings. However, the FEMA alerts are not blockable. That means you’re going to receive these messages when they are sent.
On a positive note, if you are receiving a message from this new system, it’s probably a message you want to receive because it’s directly related to your geographic area.
The current system might not offer an opt-out feature but a group of three New Yorkers has sued to stop the messages from keeping their mandatory status. Their initial injunction was denied but the case is still ongoing. In the future, it’s quite possible that a court may rule that an opt-out feature is added to smartphones. For now, if you receive a message, it’s probably worth noting what the message entails.
For decades, TV providers have tested the emergency alert systems already put into place. Much like tornado warning sirens that sound once a month in tornado-prone areas, the systems have always been used to provide real-time assistance to anyone placed in danger. The new system is essentially a modern-day version of that system. The big outrage, and perhaps warranted, is the governments overreach in refusing to allow for any type of opt-out assistance.