- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

Television sets suddenly turning on in the middle of the night, Internet messages or nontraditional telephone rings may be the next way Americans are alerted by the government they are under attack by terrorists.

The Emergency Alert System (EAS) in 1997 replaced the Emergency Broadcast System that historically warned that "this is only a test," but lawmakers say new technology is needed to give Americans faster and more practical information.

In announcing his candidacy for president, Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, first proposed a telephone warning system for in the event a terrorist attack occurs while Americans are sleeping.

"There are a lot of folks in this country who have no idea what they are supposed to do if an attack occurs," Mr. Edwards said.

Mr. Edwards and Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat and soon-to-be ranking member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, yesterday announced legislation to explore new alert systems.

The bill would authorize the Homeland Security and Commerce departments to work with other government agencies and the media to set standards for warnings.

The color-code warning system established by Tom Ridge, White House homeland security adviser, fails to give information on how to react to a terrorist attack, Mr. Edwards said.

"We have to make sure effective warnings get to every American in times of danger, and we have to make sure those warnings tell folks just what they can do to protect themselves and their loved ones," Mr. Edwards said in a statement.

The EAS is used daily on the local level to issue warnings of events that can endanger the public, including hazardous-material spills.

The EAS is also used to transmit warnings from the AMBER (America's Missing Broadcast Emergency Response) alert system, which notifies the public about child abductions. AMBER was established on a state-by-state voluntary basis in 1996 in response to the abduction and slaying of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman in Dallas.

It would be up to Congress to require the EAS to transmit terrorism warnings from a new alert system.

The EAS has never been used for its primary function, which is to provide the president with a means to address the nation through all broadcast, cable and satellite systems in the event of a national emergency.

It was not activated on September 11 because President Bush did not address the nation.

The bill requires the Commerce Department to develop new technologies to issue warnings based on the National Weather Service system, which is decoded by EAS equipment at broadcast and cable stations and can be delivered almost immediately.

Commerce would also explore new ways to disseminate the warnings through the Internet, cell phones and new technology to turn on TV sets.

Specially equipped televisions, radios, pagers and other devices already exist to decode EAS messages, according to a fact sheet distributed by the Federal Communications Commission.

Consumers can program these products to turn on automatically for the messages they want to receive.

The Edwards-Hollings bill was based on recommendations from the Partnership for Public Warning.

"National warning systems need significant improvement. They enable Americans at risk to save lives and reduce losses from natural and manmade disasters," said Peter Ward, partnership chairman.

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