Mobile Technology Pilot Project for Crisis Communications

Post by: Kim Stephens

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=cell+phone+technology&iid=3758048″ src=”″ width=”234″ height=”267″ /]Yesterday, the California Emergency Management Agency and Sprint announced that they are deploying a pilot project of the Commercial Mobile Alert System, or (CMAS). CMAS was established by the FCC in response to the Warning, Alert and Response Act (WARN) passed by Congress in 2006.  This joint FCC, DHS press release, dated Dec. 7, 2009, describes the program.

“The Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) is one of many projects within (Integrated Public Alert and Warning System) IPAWS intended to provide emergency mangers and the President of the United States a means to send alerts and warnings to the public. Specifically, CMAS provides Federal, state, territorial, tribal and local government officials the ability to send 90 character geographically targeted text messages to the public regarding emergency alert and warning of imminent threats to life and property, Amber alerts, and Presidential emergency messages. The CMAS is a combined effort of the federal government and cellular providers to define a common standard for cellular alerts.”

For background info go to: FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau”s web page; or see the Congressional Research Service‘s report on the topic titled: “The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and All-Hazard Warnings“, June 26, 2009. It is interesting that the WARN act is optional for cell phone service providers. From the CRS report: “The WARN Act also included provisions for commercial wireless service providers to opt in or out of the emergency alert service, with requirements for informing consumers”. I find that unfortunate considering this technology has the ability to target a specific population within a geographic boundary, setting it apart from Twitter and even SMS text.

From the Sprint press release yesterday: “CMAS will provide emergency management professionals with expanded options in the face of a variety of situations involving imminent danger to lives and property. Some potential examples include:

  • An emergency message could be targeted to cell phones at a stadium event, informing attendees of where to go or what direction to drive following a nearby highway accident or chemical spill.
  • Emergency information related to wildfires, mudslides, floods or other localized events could be targeted to residents in specific neighborhoods or along routes where the danger is greatest.
  • Students and faculty across a campus could be quickly informed when lockdown conditions are necessary due to a threat.
  • If a suspicious package were reported in an airport, shopping mall or office complex, thousands could be sent messages to move to a certain area until the threat was removed.”

Too bad the program is optional for service providers–do you agree?


3 responses to “Mobile Technology Pilot Project for Crisis Communications

  1. Claire. Your BLOG and articles are awesome.

    Regarding this article:

    I originally came across it in Government Technology (, a technical publication whose updates I receive electronically, every day. I am not an expert on the technology or particulars of the service, but I do believe this technology and capability has existed for quite awhile; I just think it’s never been exploited this way and in such a focused manner.

    The implications of such a service, if adopted by all service providers, would make this technology available to the general population and could provide the capability to broadcast in multiple languages based on demographics, etc.

    It has some limitiations in the number of characters per message (90), so this old blowhard (me) and others like me would have to be specific and to the point. I assume that standardized alert messages have been developed that can be quickly tailored to the location.

    Looking forward to reading your posts.

  2. The problem is that this isn’t really CMAS, it’s just a joint publicity stunt between California and Sprint. CMAS is opt-out, whereas this demo is opt-in. CMAS is multi-vendor, whereas this “pilot” is Sprint only. And of course this is San Diego County only.

    I’m afraid Mark’s right: this is pretty much existing technology being mis-branded as CMAS so somebody can claim political bragging rights. Emergency management by news release.

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