Emergency Alert Systems: A Comparative Approach
In an increasingly mobile world, cell phones provide the best way to disseminate national emergency information. According to a study of U.S. emergency alerts by Georgia Tech, mobile alerts are easier to understand than radio or television alerts.  The Emergency Alert System (“EAS”) is a national public warning system. This multi-channel system requires radio, broadcast television, cable, and satellite providers to allow the President to address the American public during a national emergency. 
In 2006, concerned with the need to provide alerts over cellular networks, Congress passed the Warning, Alert, and Response Network Act.  The Act established a committee of public and private sector officials who were charged with developing standards for implementing Wireless Emergency Alerts. 
A recent event involving a false alert highlighted the importance of properly implementing a cellular alert system. In December, amid rising tensions over North Korea’s missile development, Hawaii began testing its public alert systems for the first time since the Cold War era.  On January 13, 2018, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency sent smartphones an inbound ballistic missile alert at 8:07 a.m. and another message at 8:43 a.m. stating that the first was a false alarm, causing wide spread panic and confusion. 
Three days later, Japan – another state concerned about North Korean missile development – sent out a national mobile alert informing the public that North Korea had launched a missile and citizens should take shelter.   Five minutes later, the alert was declared a mistake.
Both of these instances highlight the significant risks of faulty public alert systems. 
Though officials later blamed a worker’s misunderstanding of supervisor instructions for the error, they initially attributed the mishap in Hawaii to an errant click of a button on a poorly designed interface involving a drop-down menu listing alerts available for dissemination.   While trial-and-error is certain in the development of public alert systems, many argue that widespread panic ensuing from a lack of safeguards and deficient design is unacceptable. 
Interestingly, the EU-funded emergency alert project Alert4All has considered this scenario in devising a multilingual alert system able to span multiple countries.  By analyzing existing public communication technologies as well as public response trends, the EU has created a system that considers human error a possible threat to emergency alerts.  By focusing not only on efficiency, but also on effectiveness and maintaining the public trust, the EU has developed a model system worthy of international attention.
This post is a student blog post and in no way represents the views of the Fordham International Law Journal.