Thursday, June 17, 2004

Americans soon will get alerts of terrorist attacks through new technology that reaches homes, cars and schools as well as through the early warning system originally designed for severe weather reports.

The deal reached yesterday among several government agencies gives the Homeland Security Department the authority to develop a warning message to be sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which will broadcast the warning using the new technology.

Additionally, lifesaving information will be broadcast regionally and locally over the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) as a crawl on the bottom of TV screens and over local radio stations.

Michael Brown, the Homeland Security Department’s undersecretary for emergency preparedness and response, said the EAS will continue to be the backbone of the nation’s alert and warning notifications, but that the agreement adds newer and faster ways to communicate.

Consumer technology for NOAA’s system, called Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME), reached the market in April and will be popping up on numerous consumer products with a “public alert” logo, said Jenny Miller, spokeswoman for the Consumer Electronic Association.

The devices soon will be spread throughout homes including in home security systems, telephones and battery-operated television remote controls, in case electricity is lost.

Nearly 100 percent of the country can receive the signal, and consumers can pre-select the type of alert they wish to receive, such as weather and terrorist warnings.

Broadcast receivers already are installed in emergency control centers as well as workplaces and public schools.

“We feel strongly that the ability to put redundant systems and capabilities in place increases the likelihood that emergency information is delivered to targeted populations with minimal delay,” said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Frank Libutti, undersecretary for information analysis and infrastructure protection for Homeland Security.

“Critical information will now be available when people most need it,” added retired Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, NOAA administrator.

“What began as NOAA weather radio broadcasts now extends to a range of products and all-hazards purposes. It’s gratifying to know that many more lives can now be better protected,” Adm. Lautenbacher said.

FEMA and its alert system became part of the new Homeland Security Department after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Adding NOAA’s all-hazards radio system gives the federal government’s warning system a multilayered approach, a spokeswoman said.

“We have the EAS that works, but this is another tool for our toolbox,” said Michelle Petrovich, spokeswoman for information analysis and infrastructure protection at Homeland Security.

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