Amanda Ripley

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EMERGENCY 2NITE :-(

9th Apr 2008 posted in General

One day, you could get a text message from the president telling you to evacuate your home because of a chemical spill—or to take shelter in your basement because of a radiation attack. Today, the feds adopted rules for a nationwide text-message alert system. (Don’t panic: the messages would be free, and you could opt out if you wanted.)

A sensible idea. Regular people have been using text messages to save themselves and find loved ones for years. After Hurricane Katrina, thousands of kids taught their parents to text—and it was the only way to communicate for days.

But like most hi-tech emergency tools, texting creates new problems while fixing old ones. Putting aside the logistical challenges, which are formidable (as is, the program isn’t expected to be in place until 2010), there is the problem of mission creep.

I get emergency alerts from Washington, DC, on my cell phone and over email. You would be stunned by how many messages I have gotten. Judging by quantity alone, you would think I lived in the middle of an interplanetary war. I once got 7 messages in one morning because of…rainy weather.

Weather is the obsession of the Alert DC people. It’s a legitimate concern, of course. Weather kills a lot of people nationwide every year. But slightly above-average winds or a potential threat of hail send these guys into hysterics.

Naturally, I’ve stopped paying a huge amount of attention to the alerts. Which is a shame, because I might need them one day.