The emergency broadcast system is going high-tech.
Alcatel-Lucent today is unveiling the Broadcast Message Center, a system that allows wireless carriers to send emergency text messages to mobile phones based on their locations in the event of a local, state or national emergency. And because it's based on location, the system allows the messages to be isolated to phones that are physically located in a defined space, such as a city or a neighborhood.
The system is part of a government mandate for wireless carriers to have the system ready to deploy by April 2012. Alcatel-Lucent has been working on the technology for about two years with the assistance of government agencies, including the FCC, the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Simply, the idea is to quickly be able to communicate information in the event of an emergency, such as bad weather, a chemical spill or a terrorist attack. Authorities could inform residents of an evacuation plan during a wildfire via text message. Or the weather service could alert residents of particular counties that a tornado is headed their way. Alcatel-Lucent VP Morgan Wright said:
With the public increasingly relying on cell phones, it becomes mission critical for service providers to be able to share critical, time-sensitive information over these devices during times of crisis. The Broadcast Message Center enables service providers to do this so that its subscribers can be warned and informed during emergencies.
Those sorts of messages will be broadcast on a channel dedicated for this use and will not be impacted by a flood of wireless network traffic that tends to go with emergencies. Some alerts - categorized as Presidential - are mandatory and mobile phone owners would not be able t opt-out. These might include national security alerts. The others, which could include Amber Alerts, would be on an opt-in basis.
For now, the government is using the technology to transmit down to the county level but the company says that the technology can go far more granular than that - down to just a few city blocks.
And that opens the door to some potential commercial uses. That arm of the technology wouldn't sit on a dedicated channel the way the emergency broadcasts will but it would allow the carriers a potential revenue stream for subscription services that would use it, such as real-time traffic alerts that notify drivers along a certain stretch of highway that they're approaching a traffic hazard, such as an accident or obstruction.