Press Releases

After Marshall Fire, Hickenlooper & Bennet Urge FCC to Adopt Rule to Improve Emergency Alert System

Apr 20, 2022

Wireless Emergency Alert system was not used during Marshall Fire because of concerns with reliability and delivery

Many Boulder County residents received no evacuation alerts

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet today urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt a rule that would help ensure the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system is more reliable for state and local governments during emergencies and natural disasters. Boulder County and other municipalities avoid using WEA due to concerns about reliability and delivery of alerts during emergency scenarios, but private systems used instead often have problems of their own.

Tomorrow, the FCC will consider a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking entitled Improving Public Reporting on Wireless Emergency Alert Reliability. If adopted, the FCC would seek comments to help ensure wireless emergency alerts (WEAs) are promptly delivered to cellular devices during emergencies and natural disasters like the Marshall Fire.

“While over 1,600 entities nationwide are authorized to send WEAs, less than half have ever done so. According to reports, concerns about the geographic accuracy, delivery, or reliability of WEAs have hampered confidence in the WEA system and impacted its adoption,” Hickenlooper and Bennet wrote in a letter to the FCC.

“The Marshall Fire is the most destructive wildfire in Colorado’s history and underscores the need for a whole-of-government effort to increase our resilience against natural disasters and improve our emergency response capabilities, including WEAs.”

Text of the letter is available HERE and below.

Dear Chairwoman Rosenworcel,

We write to you to highlight the importance of the Federal Communications Commission’s (Commission) consideration of a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking entitled Improving Public Reporting on Wireless Emergency Alert Reliability. If adopted, the Commission will take a necessary step toward ensuring wireless emergency alerts (WEAs) are promptly delivered to cellular devices during emergencies and natural disasters.

Authorized federal, state, and local governments and emergency management agencies have the ability to send verified and geographically targeted alerts to WEA-capable mobile devices to warn of imminent emergencies, threats, or natural disasters such as wildfires. While over 1,600 entities nationwide are authorized to send WEAs, less than half have ever done so. According to reports, concerns about the geographic accuracy, delivery, or reliability of WEAs have hampered confidence in the WEA system and impacted its adoption by emergency management authorities. Now more than ever, it is critical the Commission consider taking meaningful steps within its authorities to establish performance requirements  and improve the reliability of WEA delivery. Americans must have confidence they’ll receive timely, life-saving emergency alerts to protect themselves and their loved ones during times of crisis.

Early warnings to evacuate and seek shelter ahead of fast-spreading wildfires are necessary to save lives and property. During last December’s Marshall Fire, more than 1,000 homes and businesses were destroyed. Coloradans are still removing debris, seeking to recoup lost property, and recovering from the disaster. The WEA system was not used during the Marshall Fire due to existing concerns about its reliability and delivery, and many Boulder residents did not receive any timely emergency alert to evacuate from the blaze through the private alerting system that was used instead by local authorities. We must ensure there is confidence in tools such as WEA to perform flawlessly and assist our first responders in carrying out their life-saving responsibilities. The Marshall Fire is the most destructive wildfire in Colorado’s history and underscores the need for a whole-of-government effort to increase our resilience against natural disasters and improve our emergency response capabilities, including WEAs.

We thank you for your consideration of this matter and we look forward to supporting the Commission in its effort to improve the performance, reliability, and accuracy of wireless emergency alerts during times of crisis, consistent with all applicable rules and regulations.

Sincerely,

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