June 27, 2018

Senate Unanimously Passes Harris/Schatz/Gardner Legislation to Improve Emergency Alert System

ALERT Act Will Give the Federal Government Primary Responsibility of Notifying the Public of a Missile Threat

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last night, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Authenticating Local Emergencies and Real Threats (ALERT) Act, legislation authored by U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). The ALERT Act, which was introduced following the false emergency alert that went out across Hawai‘i on January 13, will improve the emergency alert system and give the federal government the primary responsibility of alerting the public of a missile threat. 

State and local governments have been largely responsible for alerting the public of threats from natural disasters and severe weather such as wildfires. With various government agencies issuing alerts, the system has relied on an inconsistent patchwork of technologies and procedures established by each agency. The false alarm in Hawai‘i highlighted some of the weaknesses in the state’s emergency alert system, which had a poorly designed user interface and did not have a sufficient verification system or computer redundancies to help prevent mistakes. The incident made clear the need for federal standards in the system and called into question the state’s responsibility to issue a missile alert. 

The Harris-Schatz-Gardner legislation would strengthen the way state and local governments use the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, the FEMA platform used by emergency management professionals across the country to issue warnings. In addition to Harris, Schatz, and Gardner, original cosponsors of the ALERT Act include U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i). 

The bill now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.