Friday, October 2, 2009

National Alert System Questioned


Would you be notified in time? http://bit.ly/13InKg

By GARY BAUMGARTEN
Paltalk News Network

When the tsunami hit the Samoan islands there was a lot of second guessing about the alert system in place. The bottom line is that people got only from 4-7 minutes warning to get out of harm's way. Not enough time to save evenyone in the path of the wave.

Similar criticism is being directed at the warning system in the United States. A system that a congressional agency says is ineffective. It's so bad that the Government Accounting Office has deemed it "unreliable."

The Emergency Alert System is designed to let Americans know of an imminent attack or natural disaster. Messages are supposed to be relayed to the public via TV and radio stations. You've probably heard the tests on both. Tests that may have irritated you - because they interrupted program. Or tests that you may have largely ignored. Imagine your response should a real alert be sounded. Would you even take notice?

The GAO report goes even further, though, in damning the system. It points out that the last time FEMA tested the system was in 2007. Worse, there are no plans to test it again.

And it isn't as if the 2007 test was particularly successful. Some TV stations involved didn't even get the messages to rebroadcast them.

In a day and age when fewer people are watching TV and listening to the radio, opting instead for iPods, satellite radio and the Internet, perhaps it's time to revamp the system entirely.

In my town, the police have what's known as a reverse 911 system. Instead of you calling them, they call you.

I remember the first time my phone rang and there was a recording of a police officer on the other end telling me about a lost boy in the area. He asked virtually everyone in the community to be on the lookout for the youngster and to ring the police should any of us spot him.

That kind of a system should be expanded to ring every cellphone in reach of the local towers. Coupled with notifications over TV and radio, perhaps we can avoid the kind of recrimination going on in the Samoan islands the next time a natural or man made disaster is deemed imminent here.

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