The federal government just unveiled an ambitious mission to augment its old cold-war era Emergency Broadcast System, with new-fangled infrastructure. Called the Personal Localized Alerting Network, or PLAN for short, the system will send geographically-targeted text warnings to mobile phones dependent on your location.
The idea for PLAN is straightforward. In the case of a dire situation, authorized government state and local officials will communicate the alert to PLAN for vetting. If the communication is deemed legitimate, this message will then be sent to the country’s wireless carriers which will push the warning out to their customers.
In theory, alerts will only be sent to cell phone users currently in a given affected area, say to iPhones and other location-enable devices. Big brother indeed. There’s no need to specially sign up though users can opt to receive all but presidential level communications. Envisioned message types include warnings directly from the President, alerts involving imminent threats to life, and amber alerts.
PLAN is a join project between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) and is expected to become operational by April of 2012. Let’s hope at that point the system won’t be entirely obsolete given the fast pace of phone evolution.