Senate Commerce Approves READI Act Redux

The Senate Commerce Committee has voted to favorably report S. 2693, the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement Act of 2019, co-sponsored by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), John Thune (R-S.D.).

That came in a markup of a bunch of bills in the committee Wednesday (Nov. 13).

The bill, which was reintroduced in October, would improve the wireless and broadcast emergency alert system and prevent its accidental triggering.

Among other things, the bill would allow broadcasters to repeat presidential and FEMA alerts, something they can't do now.

The bill was introduced last year--and passed the Senate but not the House--in the wake of an inadvertent missile alert triggered in Hawaii during which some people did not receive the alert. "Even though it was a false alarm, the missile alert exposed real flaws in the way people receive emergency alerts," said Schatz Thursday (Oct. 24), ranking member of the Communications Subcommittee.

The bill would:

1. "Ensure more people receive emergency alerts by eliminating the option to opt out of receiving certain federal alerts, including missile alerts, on mobile phones;

2. "Require active alerts issued by the President or FEMA to be repeated. Currently, alerts on TV or radio may only be played once;

3. "Explore establishing a system to offer emergency alerts to audio and video online streaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify;

4. "Encourage State Emergency Communications Committees to periodically review and update their State Emergency Alert System Plans, which are often out of date;

5. "Compel FEMA to create best practices for state, tribal, and local governments to use for issuing alerts, avoiding false alerts, and retracting false alerts if they occur, as well as for alert origination training and plans for officials to contact each other and federal officials during emergencies; and

6. "Establish a reporting system for false alerts so the FCC can track when they occur and examine their causes."

A House version has been introduced by Reps. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Pete Olson (R-Texas), and Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.). 

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.