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DHS to Send Widespread Alerts 265

MarsGov writes "The Department of Homeland Security is gearing up to be able to periodic test 'alerts' to cable television stations, satellite radio, as well as any text-capable device — PDAs, cell phones, and web sites." From the article: Some glitches remain as telephone companies and other networks grapple with potentially trying to alert all of their customers at the same time without jamming their systems, Lawson said. But the alerts could be transmitted by text messages, audio recordings, video or graphics, he said, opening the possibility of sending out additional detailed information to specific sectors, like hospitals or emergency responders."
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DHS to Send Widespread Alerts

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  • kind of scary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Twillerror ( 536681 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @01:56PM (#15706776) Homepage Journal
    As much as I think this could help in the event of disaster, I hope that some legislation is passed to limit it's use. It would be very easy to abuse it for propogand purposes.

  • by BroncoInCalifornia ( 605476 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @01:57PM (#15706777)
    They have to push the fear buttons before the fall election. It will make the difference between winning and losing.
  • by JurassicPizza ( 972175 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @01:58PM (#15706787)
    Homeland Security Spam!
  • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @02:01PM (#15706812)
    A standard message format for disaster warning would be useful when prompt response could save lives. Tornado warnings come to mind as an ideal use for this. Not everyone is watching the boob tube or listening to conventional radio these days.
  • by Chagatai ( 524580 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @02:02PM (#15706823) Homepage
    The real reason for these alerts is to keep people as scared as possible. A building blew up in New York two days ago? Must be scary terrorists. Your flight was delayed? Be scared--it may be terrorists. Flat Coca-Cola, small puppies getting kicked, and cable rates being raised? Be terrified, because these were likely caused by terrorists.

    The truth is that these events will continue during the 2006 elections and we should start seeing a few Orange Alerts or even a planned attack here in the next several months. No, wait, I got it. There will be an attack immediately followed by news of Osama bin Laden's death. Yeah, that will do it.

  • I don't get it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @02:04PM (#15706829)
    If this is supposed to be a war on terror, then why is it that all they seem to be doing is looking for new ways to make people terrified?
  • Re:kind of scary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mysticalfruit ( 533341 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @02:06PM (#15706847) Homepage Journal
    Not to mention possibly clogging up vital pieces of infrastructure that would be most needed in an emergency...

    "We're sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed, this cell node is currently attempting to send 104,000 SMS messages..."
  • by andrewman327 ( 635952 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @02:08PM (#15706870) Homepage Journal
    There are already emergency alert systems, and the government has not abused them. The new SECDHS does a good job of not elevating alerts when not needed.

    And to be fair, the federal government was very quick to say that the NYC building explosion the other day was not terrorism.

  • great, more spam (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @02:11PM (#15706894)
    just what I need, more spam.
    can i opt-out??
  • Re:kind of scary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrxak ( 727974 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @02:12PM (#15706902)
    I can only seeing something like this causing panic. "UR IN DANGER RUN 4 LIFE" getting sent to thousands of people all at once can't possibly be a great way of alerting people to an emergency. At least with television alerts they give you a decent amount of information, but text messenging, especially at this large a scale, any message sent would probably not be able to include a lot of information.
  • by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @02:13PM (#15706925) Journal
    that wonderful color-coded scale that was touted to alert people to the current state of readiness? You do remember that chart, don't you?

    Me neither.

    So tell me again how sending the entire nation into a tizzy everytime bin Laden sneezes is going to be any better? Don't we have enough dumbasses living in a swamp coming on tv and telling everyone how afraid they are that their double-wide will be bombed whenever they see someone whose skin isn't white?

    Do we really need this crap other than to keep people in a state of panic?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @02:15PM (#15706942)
    Back in the cold war they started the EBS, "Emergency Broadcast System", so if the Russians fired their nukes, you'd have a good half hour to "duck and cover" and tremble in fear before you were vaporized in an atomic holocaust.

    This was more intelligently re-worked as the "EAS", or Emergency Alert System, where they actually had a real use for it: it would sound when a tornado or other dangerous weather was coming. Anyone remember the hilarious episode of WKRP where there was a tornado about to hit Cincinnatti, and the radio station only had warnings for nukes, and Les Nessman had to substutite "tornado" for "communist" (warning of the "Godless Tornados")?

    WTF is this damned pork? There is already as system in place. The EAS could warn you of a terror attack just as easily as a tornado... except they can't see terrorists on radar, or 9-11 wouldn't have happened! WTF is this actually supposed to DO? I mean, besides coddle the cowardly?

    Speaking of weather vs Osama, we had two tornados rip through our town this year, no loss of human life (lots of dead animals) but incredible infrastructure destruction- houses, trailers, businesses, roofs, electricity, roads. Bin Laden couldn't DREAM of making a mess anywhere near as catastrophic. I can't imagine anyone here (or moreso New Orleans where a thousand people died) being the least bit scared of terrorists.

    Is anybody else sick of our incredibly cowardly government? What can we do to get these yellow bellied chickenshits to grow a spine?
  • by dougman ( 908 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @02:21PM (#15706999)
    The difference between winning and losing for whom? Again, everything is about "the timing" and has to have an agenda.

    First off, if you RTFA, it says, "The Homeland Security Department, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, expects to have the system working by the end of next year." Furthermore, this is extending 1950's policy (President Truman, Democrat) to 21st centrury devices. Lastly, it has never been used and only the president can issue its usage. But hey, feel free to don your tinfoil hat. I guess only time will tell - we should follow up on this after the elections.

    What I find unfortunate is that DHS can't win. If they send out any kind of alert and nothing happens, they overreacted (even if there was a real threat and the perps simply scratched their mission once they were exposed.). If they don't send an alert and something happens, they take the blame for that. If they use it to send out emergency information on a hurricane bearing down on New Orleans... well, they won't do that right, because you believe this tech will only be used for political gain (though TFA says it may be used for natural disasters).

    Again, this is a case where the technology can be used for good or evil. Looking back at how things unfolded on 9/11, it would have been highly beneficial to have system in place to alert officials of what was happening. It is amazing how much lag there was between the time we suspected we were under attack and when all the airlines found out and began issuing orders to their pilots.
  • Re:kind of scary (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @02:26PM (#15707038)
    As much as I think this could help in the event of disaster, I hope that some legislation is passed to limit it's use. It would be very easy to abuse it for propogand purposes.

    And legislation will stop this... how?

  • Re:kind of scary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dougman ( 908 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @02:36PM (#15707125)
    Clearly you did not RTFA. It states, "Only the president can order a national emergency alert" and "The new digital system will update the emergency alerts planned -- but never used -- during the Cold War in the event of a nuclear strike". More legislation...uggh.

    While you can pretend to predict what will happen, over 55 years of history (this program started in 1951) shows that it is unlikely to be used. Only the President can issue the alert and the current President didn't on 9/11 or any other time since. Other than your own FUD, what reason do you have to believe that it will suddenly be used for evil?

    Again, DHS is updating the technology to deliver the same old message (which they apparently have yet to send).
  • by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @02:39PM (#15707156) Homepage
    I don't know about you, but this system actually has some appeal to me.

    I wouldn't want to be receiving messages everytime Osama Bin Laden sneezes, or some vague insubstantial threat warning is released, but some type of good, reliable system for distributing information when there is a clear and present danger would be immensely helpful to our country.

    An effective information distribution system would have done wonders for getting people out of New Orleans ahead of time, rather than at the very last minute.

    Likewise, if such a system were activated during the big NYC blackout a few years ago, it would done a lot to let people know that there was no sort of terrorist attack or other emergency.

    As long as such a system is kept under tight control to only be used in *extreme* emergencies, I have no problem with it, although I do agree that such a system could very easily be used for propoganda purposes...
  • by Unlikely_Hero ( 900172 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @02:41PM (#15707177)
    Your statement makes an argument for the pointlessness of DHS. Simple fact, there is no such thing as homeland security. All it takes for a terrorist to blow up a mid-large sized building is a bunch of crap he could buy over a small period of time at home depot and other various places. Hell, there are recipes for explosives all over the net, RDX, C4, fuck, even Astrolite. It doesn't take some kind of a "terror network" to do something that would cause a ton of carnage and damage. It takes one individual with maybe $1000 and who is REALLY pissed.
  • Re:I don't get it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by swtaarrs ( 640506 ) <> on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @02:41PM (#15707179)
    Because people are easy to manipulate when they're afraid. 9/11, as terrible as it was, was the best thing to happen to Bush's presidency. It gave him the ability to justify any of his actions with "it's for the war on terror" and most people are afraid enough to take it. Hopefully he won't cause too much more damage before he's done in 08...
  • Re:kind of scary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geobeck ( 924637 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @02:48PM (#15707234) Homepage

    It would be very easy to abuse it for propogand[a] purposes.

    Unlike the regular news media, which has never been used for propaganda purposes, of course.

  • by dougman ( 908 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @03:03PM (#15707376)
    If you look at a timeline of terror alerts, they all seem to coincide with the release of news that was damaging to the Bush administration.

    Something "damaging" is headlined about the Administration every week, if not daily. It takes no skill to "correlate" these alerts.

    If this is a tech that can be used for good or evil, based on historical evidence, I think the Bush administration will use it for evil.

    Again, FUD. This tech *has* been available to the President during his entire term. The fact that it is being extended beyond 20th century technology (tv, radio) is a natural evolution. In fact based on historical evidence, there is no reason to believe they will use it now.

    Anyhow... showing any signs of conservatism is bad for karma these days, so I'll stop now.
  • by geobeck ( 924637 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @03:07PM (#15707412) Homepage

    There will be an attack immediately followed by news of Osama bin Laden's death.

    They can't kill off Osama! He's the goose that lays the exploding eggs! After all, 'terror' is just an abstract concept. But when you have such a charismatic poster child, it becomes a war on "that guy with the turban".

    And that creates even more terror, as the resulting xenophobia makes people see 'terrorists' around every corner. Your cab driver? He wears a turban just like Osama! He must be a terrorist! (Actually, the stereotypical Sikh cab driver's turban looks nothing like Osama's, but who pays attention when they're whipped into a xenophobic frenzy?) That engineer at X-TechCo looks kind of like Osama--he must be stealing technical secrets for terrorists! And that airline pilot doesn't look 'American'--ohnoes, we're all going to die!

    Without Osama's pretty face in the news every day, the war on terror would fizzle into a war on apathy.

  • by geobeck ( 924637 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @03:09PM (#15707433) Homepage

    The terrorists' goal is to spread fear to help them get to their political goals. They are going to be very happy everytime this alert system is used...

    And that's exactly why they are going to use it.

  • Re:kind of scary (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @03:15PM (#15707481)
    How many people actually follow the current alert system by DHS? Maybe when the color chart was first unveiled news reports and comedy sketches did but it's largely ignored now. The emergency broadcast system test at least interrupt the program and at a minimum get people complaining that it is interrupting their show. In the event of a real need to alert people, trying to build a system "then" is too late.

    Now I'm not sure, like others have posted, that text messages are necessarily the best method (can only fit so much in a text message) but maybe it would at least provide an alert to check other news sources.

  • Re:kind of scary (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nikker ( 749551 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @06:34PM (#15709018)
    This has got to be the dumbest thing I have ever heard of. How can the end user really count on a SMS to be authentic? The only way for this to work is .... if the phone companies filter out all SMS that could be construded as DHS spoofs and who is gonna have to pay for this ? YOU. Will it be cheap? Nope ... why should it be?

    I know this is a rant but the more they want to tell you how terrified you should be today what ever the medium they use becomes governament policed. So one by one they take over forms of communication as your best intrest.

    Now the question is what happens when someone comments on homland security using these mediums? The governament has to question if your comments have anything to do with them and if so could someone on the other end *possibly* construe you comment as theirs. This is where evreything starts to go down hill IMO. Good luck anyway

  • Re:Indeed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hazem ( 472289 ) on Thursday July 13, 2006 @01:08AM (#15710707) Journal
    While many of us see Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and Animal Farm as warnings of what could be. The real problem comes from the people in power (or want to be in power) who see these books as instruction manuals.

"We don't care. We don't have to. We're the Phone Company."