The Federal Communications Commission is making some improvements to its emergency alert system following the bombing in Chelsea, New York.
After the bombing, authorities sent out emergency alerts to mobile phones in the New York area warning residents to be on the look out for the suspect. Phones buzzed across New York city during rush hour, with the words: “Wanted: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-yr-old male.”
Rahami was the lead suspect in the explosion that injured 29 people in the New York neighborhood of Chelsea on Sept. 17 and a second explosion occurred in Elizabeth, New Jersey that occurred the following day. He has since been arrested and charged.
The alert has been criticized with claims of racial profiling and that it fueled unnecessary panic. As a result, the Federal Communications Commission has made some serious improvements to the alert system, including an increased character limit and ability to embed photos.
The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireless Emergency Alert service sends alerts to mobile phones in affected areas, allowing government agencies like the FBI, National Weather Service and Department of Homeland Security to notify residents of a threat.
In the case of the call for Rahami’s whereabouts, while the mobile alert had a large impact with residents it didn’t necessarily offer much information about the suspect or situation at hand.
Brian Feldman at Select All commented on what he believed was racial profiling that resulted from the vague message, writing, “It essentially deputizes the five boroughs and encourages people to treat anyone who looks like he might be named ‘Ahmad Khan Rahami’ with suspicion.”
According to The Verge, the city’s Office of Emergency Management explained the alert was very brief because of the limitations in the Wireless Emergency Alert system. However, on Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to expand the alert’s 90 character limit to 360 characters for 4G and LTE networks and make it possible to include attachments like embedded photos and links.
“We can do more with these messages.”
The new alert capabilities, which were , aim at clarifying some of the ambiguous details in emergency situations. According to The Verge, Federal Communications Commission commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said, “We can do more with these messages. Vague directives in text about where to find more information about a suspect — just as we saw in New York — are not good enough.”
The publication also reported that the Wireless Emergency Alert system will have narrower geo-targeting capabilities so alerts can remain in the general region of the incident, as opposed to the Chelsea bomb alert which extended across phones throughout the entire city.