‘Alert Houston’ Public Warning System To Become More Targeted

The current public warning system contacts residents only through email or social media. But new “push” alerts are coming soon that target residents based on location.


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently approved changes that will allow public safety officials to target specific neighborhoods about chemical leaks or weather warnings through cellphones.

“We’ve been working with the FCC to improve what’s called geo-targeting within the wireless emergency alert system, which is a type of warning that you get, for instance, an amber alert or a tornado warning or a flash flood warning,” Michael Walter, with Houston’s Office of Emergency Management, said on Tuesday.

But the changes are still about a year out.

“It takes some time for some of the cellphone carriers to move forward with modifying the technology within your phone that allows us to kind of geo-target your phone,”Walter explained.

Recently high-profile errors, such as the ballistic missile warning in Hawaii and the false tsunami warning for Galveston, could make disaster warnings less effective. Some people could delay taking action — or worse still, turn off notifications.

“We don’t recommend that whatsoever,” Walter stressed. “We know that sometimes, like when we have a rash of severe weather, you’re getting pummeled with alert, after alert, after alert.”

But by turning those warnings off, you won’t get these shelter-in-place warnings or severe weather alerts, which are only sent when there’s an imminent life-threatening situation.


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