Ridge endorses upgraded public warning system

Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge today pledged his department's support for media companies' efforts to improve existing emergency warning methods and promoted the idea of a warning system that would reach cell phones, pagers and other mobile communications systems.

Ridge spoke at the biannual meeting of the Media Security and Reliability Council at the Federal Communications Commission. The council, a 41-member federal advisory committee, is due to recommend by June 18 best practices for emergency communications. In its first 23 months of work, the council has reviewed ways that local and national media companies cope with natural disasters, terrorist attacks and power outages, among other crises.

FCC chairman Michael Powell said, 'The most important responsibility the government and media share during times of crisis is to ensure the safety and well-being of our citizens.' The recommendations we have seen today address some of the biggest challenges we must face regarding delivery of a reliable public warning system.'

Executives representing the radio, TV, cable and satellite industries described how they have reviewed their emergency preparedness plans and identified areas for further industry and government action. The Public Communications and Safety Working Group of the council, for example, called for a single federal entity to be responsible for public warning and all-hazard risk communication.

Ridge said the Homeland Security Department would work with the PCSWG to refine and harden emergency communications.

After the meeting, Ridge said, 'At the end of the day, [we need] an emergency alert system that communicates to telephones, wireless systems, pagers and the like. There are a lot of opportunities for a national system that would go into every office and school.

'There is a sense of urgency to get it done,' he added. 'We have to accept the responsibility we have.'

Ridge said he was not familiar with the technology that could be used to deploy such a system. While he endorsed public and private cooperation in the field, Ridge did not say that the Homeland Security Department would fund a nationwide electronic alert system.

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