From Media Matters for America -- May 10, 2011:
Right-Wing Media Freak Out Over GOP's Emergency Alert Plan
Following the announcement of a new national emergency alert system that will alert the public to significant emergencies via mobile phone messages, right-wing media have attacked the plan, claiming that it will allow "Dear Leader Obama To Send You Text Messages." But the plan was implemented as a result of legislation introduced by GOP Sen. Jim DeMint that was overwhelmingly passed by Congress in 2006 and accompanied by an executive order signed by President Bush.
Alert System Would Send Cell Phone Messages During Emergencies
AP: Alert System Introduced "[A]fter More Than Five Years Of Planning"; "[P]eople Will Be Able To Opt Out Of Receiving" Most Messages. The Associated Press reported on May 10:
After more than five years of planning, a national emergency alert system that will send messages to cellphones during disasters is set to be launched in New York City and Washington by the end of year.
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, said the Commercial Mobile Alert System will direct messages to cellphones in case of a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or other serious emergency. The plan was approved by Congress in 2006.
Genachowski and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's administrator, Craig Fugate, said the new system will be selective. "These are really focused on the highest levels of alerts, and those that require urgent action,'' he said.
There will be at least three levels of messages, ranging from a critical national alert from the president to warnings about impending or occurring national disasters to alerts about missing or abducted children. People will be able to opt out of receiving all but the presidential alerts. [AP, 5/10/11]
Right-Wing Media Attack Alert System And "Dear Leader Obama"
Hoft: "Terrific...Dear Leader Obama To Send You Text Messages." In a May 10 post on the right-wing blog Gateway Pundit titled, "Terrific...Dear Leader Obama to Send You Text Messages," blogger Jim Hoft wrote, " 'Hello Gun-Toting, Bible Thumpers... This is Barry.' A new national plan being implemented in New York will allow Barack Obama will send you text message alerts." [Gateway Pundit, 5/10/11]
Drudge: "Phones Required To Receive 'Homeland' Alerts." A top story on the Drudge Report on May 10 linked to a CBS New York article on the program under the headline, "Phones Required To Receive 'Homeland' Alerts." The Drudge Report also featured a link with the headline, "Cellphone warnings to include urgent texts from the president..." From the Drudge Report:
The Blaze: "Mandated Messages: The President And Homeland Security Coming To Your Cell Phone." In a May 10 post, The Blaze posted part of the CBS New York article under the headline, "Mandated Messages: The President And Homeland Security Coming To Your Cell Phone." [The Blaze, 5/10/11]
Limbaugh: Alert System Is "Nightmare Material." On the May 10 edition of his radio show, Rush Limbaugh introduced stories he claimed were "qualified to be nightmare material." The first story he cited was the new national emergency alert system. Limbaugh asked, "Why stop at emergencies?" and suggested that the Obama administration might use the alerts to send messages about "whatever it is that they want to push." [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 5/10/11]
But The System Is Based On 5-Year Old GOP-Sponsored Legislation
FEMA: PLAN Based On WARN Act of 2006. According to a description of the Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN) on the Federal Emergency Management Association's (FEMA) website, PLAN is "the result of a unique public/private partnership between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the wireless industry with the singular objective of enhanced public safety." The summary also notes that "[t]he Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act requires participating wireless carriers to activate PLAN technology by a deadline determined by the FCC, which is April 2012." [FEMA, 5/10/11, emphasis in original]
WARN Act Introduced By GOP Sen. Jim DeMint. The original legislation was introduced in 2006 by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). It was originally included as Title I in the 109th Congress' S. 1753. The legislation was written to "enable any Federal, State, tribal, or local government official with credentials issued by the National Alert Office under section 103 to alert the public to any imminent threat that presents a significant risk of injury or death to the public." [GovTrack, accessed 5/10/11]
DeMint: "The WARN Act Is An Important Step To Help Secure America's Homeland In The Event Of A Disaster." In a 2006 press release titled "Senate Approves DeMint Alert System," DeMint stated:
"The WARN Act is an important step to help secure America's homeland in the event of a disaster," said DeMint. "It's only a matter of time before the next hurricane, tornado, earthquake, chemical spill, or terrorist attack threatens the safety of our families and we must be prepared. We know that when disaster strikes, every minute counts. This will help first responders save lives by keeping people out of impacted areas and providing them with timely, accurate information."
"While we have made considerable progress in the War on Terror, the WARN Act will make a tangible difference that will benefit every American. It allows us to use everyday technology like cell phones to warn people at work or a mother picking up her kids from school of imminent danger that can be avoided. These are the kind of innovative and commonsense steps Americans expect their government to take to improve preparedness," said Senator DeMint. [DeMint press release, 9/12/06]
WARN Act Voted Into Security Bill Unanimously By GOP-Led Senate, Then Passed Into Law Nearly Unanimously. In September 2006, the GOP-led Senate voted 95-0 to include the proposal into port security legislation. According to the South Carolina newspaper The State:
The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved Sen. Jim DeMint's proposal to modernize the national alert system by expanding it beyond TV and radio networks to include cell phones and other wireless devices.
Senators voted 95-0 to include DeMint's measure in broader port security legislation that lawmakers hope to pass before adjourning for the fall election campaigns.
DeMint, a first-term Republican from Greenville, said his proposal would help provide Americans detailed information and instructions about hurricanes, other natural disasters or terrorist attacks.
"It takes the emergency broadcast system that we've had for decades through television and radio, and applies it to 21st century communications technology," DeMint told reporters after the vote. "With people on the move, many times it's hard to communicate with them."
The Warnings, Alerts and Response Network Act would give $106 million to service providers for cell phones, Blackberries and other personal electronic devices. Satellite TV and radio providers also would be included.
The service providers would use the money to research and develop ways of transmitting and localizing information from the government's Emergency Alert System. The new program would be funded through federal auctions of the nation's analog airwave spectrum as TV and radio networks convert to digital transmission.
"This will help first responders save lives by keeping people out of impacted areas and providing them with timely, accurate information," DeMint said. [The State, 9/13/06 accessed via Nexis]
After being included into the Safe Port Act of 2006, the measure passed in the Senate by a vote of 98-0. A similar version of the bill was introduced in the House by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) as H.R. 5556, where it passed by a vote of 421-2. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush. [GovTrack, accessed 5/10/11, GovTrack, accessed 5/10/11]
FCC Approved Alert System In 2008 Under Bush Appointee. From an April 9, 2008, CNN article:
Cell phone users will get text message alerts of emergencies under a new nationwide alert system approved late Wednesday by the Federal Communications Commission, according to FCC spokesman Robert Kenny.
Under the plan, the FCC will appoint a federal agency to create the messages and pass them on to cell phone companies that choose to participate, an FCC representative said earlier. Once that agency is named, the participating cell phone providers would have 10 months to comply with the new system's requirements.
"It is essential that we support and advance new ways to share critical, time-sensitive information with them in times of crisis," FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin said in a written statement.
Martin was nominated by Bush to the FCC in April 2001. Bush designated him chairman in March 2005. [CNN, 4/9/08; FCC, accessed 5/10/11]
Legislation Was Accompanied By A 2006 Executive Order Signed By Bush. On June 26, 2006, Bush signed Executive Order 13407, which stated: "It is the policy of the United States to have an effective, reliable, integrated, flexible, and comprehensive system to alert and warn the American people in situations of war, terrorist attack, natural disaster, or other hazards to public safety and well-being (public alert and warning system), taking appropriate account of the functions, capabilities, and needs of the private sector and of all levels of government in our Federal system, and to ensure that under all conditions the President can communicate with the American people." The order required the Secretary of Homeland Security to:
(i) inventory, evaluate, and assess the capabilities and integration with the public alert and warning system of Federal, State, territorial, tribal, and local public alert and warning resources;
(ii) establish or adopt, as appropriate, common alerting and warning protocols, standards, terminology, and operating procedures for the public alert and warning system to enable interoperability and the secure delivery of coordinated messages to the American people through as many communication pathways as practicable, taking account of Federal Communications Commission rules as provided by law;
(iii) ensure the capability to adapt the distribution and content of communications on the basis of geographic location, risks, or personal user preferences, as appropriate. [Government Printing Office, 6/26/06]