Senators Praise FCC Waiver for WEA Early Earthquake Warnings

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Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) commended the FCC’s decision to grant a waiver that will help mobile service providers more effectively deploy early warnings for earthquakes in the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system.

Washington, Oregon, and California are developing a west coast earthquake early warning (EEW) system known as ShakeAlert. The ShakeAlert EEW system detects significant earthquakes fast enough so that alerts can reach many people seconds before shaking arrives. A key public component of ShakeAlert is delivery of alerts to cell phone users via WEA messages.

To be effective to the public, these messages must be uniquely identifiable and transmitted with the smallest possible delay.

Specifically, the three states and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) sought clarification and rule changes to cellular phone alerts that support the unique EEW needs. They requested: (1) alert geo-fencing be optional and determined by the alert originator, so that ShakeAlert has a route to bypass geo-fencing, (2) cell carriers optimize WEA delivery within their systems, ideally to achieve latencies of five seconds or less as needed for ShakeAlert, and (3) WEA support a unique alert attention sound for the EEW system.

The Commission granted a waiver from the “enhanced geo-targeting” requirements when an earthquake early warning is being sent. The agency is developing enhancements to the WEA system to improve alerts during wildfires. Those changes could have had the unintended consequence of delaying earthquake alert times. That’s why the USGS and the states needed a waiver.

“The ShakeAlert system is designed to give people precious seconds to get to safety ahead of a major earthquake. While I welcome the FCC’s efforts to update the Wireless Emergency Alert system, particularly in relation to wildfires, those updates must not hinder the ability to send out earthquake warnings as quickly as possible,” said Feinstein.

“The 4.6 magnitude earthquake in Washington in July provided a reminder of the potential for a deadly earthquake along the Cascadia fault. This decision will help ensure the ShakeAlert system can provide rapid and effective early warning alerts, which will save lives and infrastructure across Washington and the West Coast. I applaud this decision and thank the FCC for listening to the scientists and stakeholders that are working to keep our communities resilient and prepared,” said Cantwell.

October 1, 2019   

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