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NYC and D.C. locals to get cellphone alerts for natural disasters

Now federal officials and leaders of the nation’s largest wireless telephone companies have developed a national emergency alert system that will send messages to cellphones during disasters.

Cellphone users in New York City and Washington will soon be able to receive emergency alerts for hurricanes, tornadoes and other disasters, as part of a national emergency alert system to be launched by the end of year.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are set to announce Tuesday a new emergency notification system that will allow emergency officials to send text messages to cellphones in areas where danger threatens.

The natural disasters cause havoc and destruction for those who live in within the flood or quake prone region.

Emergency alert system for cellphones
Now federal officials and leaders of the nation’s largest wireless telephone companies have developed a national emergency alert system that will send messages to cellphones during disasters.

"The traditional alerts on radio and TV are still important, and they will continue, but more and more, mobile devices are becoming essential. You have them with you," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Monday.

"In the event of a major disaster, government authorities can get lifesaving information to you quickly," he added.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are set to announce Tuesday a new emergency notification system that will allow emergency officials to send text messages to cellphones in areas where danger threatens.

Intended to save lives during disaster
After nearly 5 years of planning, the FCC is set to launch the Personal Localized Alerting Network, or PLAN, in New York City and Washington D.C. later this year.

Top executives from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon are scheduled to join FCC Commissioner Julius Genachowski, FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York Tuesday to announce the new alert system in the two cities.

“The goal is to make sure that in times of real crisis, real emergency, life-saving information can get to people where they are quickly,” Genachowski said in an interview Monday.

"Given the kinds of threats made against New York City at the World Trade Center, Times Square and other places popular with visitors and tourists, we’ll be even safer when authorities can broadcast warnings to everyone in a geographic area regardless of where they came from or bought their phones," added Bloomberg.

According to an FCC spokesman, a separate announcement will be made in Washington at a later date, and the PLAN service won’t be available across the rest of the country until April.

What is the PLAN?
The emergency text messages will be sent out in case of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other serious emergencies such as Amber Alerts for missing children and information about public safety threats.
Customers of participating cellphone companies in the affected area would get the alert, but someone who lives in the affected area but happens to be out of town would not get the alert.

Visitors to the affected area also would get the alerts, which are designed to mimic the familiar radio and TV broadcast alerts.

The alert would display on the phone's front screen, instead of the traditional text message inbox, and the phone would ring distinctively or likely vibrate.

Cellphone users can opt out of receiving any of the alerts except the presidential messages.

“This new technology could become a lifeline for millions of Americans and is another tool that will strengthen our nation’s resilience against all hazards,” FEMA’s Fugate said in a statement.

Fugate added that Japan is already using a similar cellphone warning system that helped the country prevent casualties during the March earthquake and tsunami.