Bill Would Federalize Nuclear Missile Alerts

In the wake of Hawaii's errant nuclear missile warning, a bipartisan trio of legislators want to take the such alerts out of state hands and make them the sole responsibility of the federal government.

The alert triggered panic and an FCC investigation--the FCC oversees communications outlets' relaying of those emergency alerts, which was not the issue in Hawaii.

Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), have introduced the Authenticating Local Emergencies and Real Threats (ALERT) Act would prohibit states and localities from issuing missile threat warnings.

“States are laboratories of democracy. They should not be the laboratories of missile alerts,” said Sen. Schatz,  ranking member on the Communications Subcommittee. “The people who know first should be the people who tell the rest of us. This legislation makes clear that the authority to send missile alerts rests with the federal government.”

The bill would: 

     • "Restrict the authority to alert the public of a missile threat to the Federal government.  It would also require FEMA to establish a process to promptly notify state authorities when a missile alert is issued so they can activate their own protective action plans to ensure public safety;

  • "Require the IPAWS subcommittee of the FEMA National Advisory Council to make recommendations on the best practices that state and local governments should follow to maintain the integrity of IPAWS. At a minimum, the subcommittee would make recommendations regarding the incident management tools used to originate alerts, and the procedures for testing and sending notifications to the public to avoid false alarms;
  • "Require FEMA to establish minimum requirements for state and local governments to participate in IPAWS within 120 days of receiving the subcommittee’s recommendations. States would have reasonable time to implement any new requirements FEMA imposes;
  • "Require FEMA to establish a process to test the incident management and warning tool that a state or local government adopts to originate and send alerts to the public in the FEMA IPAWS Lab and to certify it meets any technical requirements that FEMA adopts; and
  • "Require FEMA to review its Emergency Operations, National Watch and Regional Watch Centers to assess their ability to track state and local alerts issued under IPAWS and determine which ones they should be notified about when states send them out."

Bill co-sponsors include Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii).

(Photo via Hawaii Saavy's Flickr. Photo was taken on May 24, 2011. Attributed using Creative Commons License 2.0. Photo was resized to fit 16x9 aspect ratio)

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.