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US wireless emergency alerts are now more locally targeted

Jon Fingas
Associate Editor
Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As promised, Wireless Emergency Alerts should now be more sophisticated -- and importantly, more relevant. The FCC has announced that a slew of improvements are now in place for alerts, including significantly improved geographic accuracy that doesn't let alerts overshoot their intended areas by more than a tenth of a mile. The messages themselves can be much longer, jumping from 90 to 360 characters, and can arrive in Spanish. You'll also see a new type of alert, a Public Safety Message, that can recommend lifesaving measures like shelter locations.

You might also have to endure fewer tests. Organizers can now run alert tests that only reach volunteers, and don't require an FCC waiver to take place. You may only see mandatory tests for large-scale drills.

The improved system may take a while to deploy when emergency managers may need to update their software. Provided they do, though, they could not only improve the usefulness of alerts but ensure that recipients take them seriously. There's a concern that people might grow desensitized if alerts are too common, especially if they sometimes miss their mark.