Earlier this year, Hawaiian residents received a text—“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII”—wrongly signaling that a nuclear bomb might be headed their way. An employee reportedly mistook a drill for a real attack and sent the alert to all cell phones in the state. Today, U.S. senators introduced a new bill that aims to both address erroneous alerts like the Hawaii event and to also “explore” sending emergency alerts to you through streaming services.
The bill, called the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement (READI) Act of 2018, was introduced on Wednesday by Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz and South Dakota Senator John Thune. The incident in Hawaii seemingly served as a catalyst for the legislation, which would set rules for blasting people with pertinent alerts not just via their phones, but on TV, radios, and possibly services like Netflix and Spotify.
“When a missile alert went out across Hawai‘i in January, some people never got the message on their phones, while others missed it on their TVs and radios,” Senator Schatz said in a post announcing the bill. “Even though it was a false alarm, the missile alert exposed real flaws in the way people receive emergency alerts.” Senator Thune claimed the bill took into consideration the failures of the past “and recognizes that emergency protocols must change along with communication technology.”
In a joint statement, the senators said the act would “explore establishing a system to offer emergency alerts to audio and video online streaming services.” Netflix and Spotify were both name-dropped in the Senators’ announcement, however neither were mentioned in the actual bill. On the last page of the bill, the Senators asked that the Federal Communications Commission “complete an inquiry to examine the feasibility of establishing systems and signaling to offer Emergency Alert System alerts to audio and video streaming services delivered over the internet.” The bill would give the FCC 270 days to “submit a report on the findings.”
As for errors, the bill would create a way for people to report false alerts for the FCC to review. The senators also aim to get rid of your ability to opt out of receiving certain types of federal alerts on your phone, and to require that some emergency alerts be broadcasted repeatedly.
The 2018 READI act follows the introduction of the ALERT act earlier this year, which would limit state governments’ involvement in sending out emergency alerts.
The READI act covers a lot of ground with regards to updating the emergency alert system, and the inclusion of streaming services sounds especially dystopian. While it makes sense that the Senators would want to get a life-or-death message inserted into some of the most distracting platforms of our time, it’s deeply unsettling to envision a “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND” alert interrupting an episode of Queer Eye.