It was a fairly well-used convention in movies or TV series with a crisis or disaster involved in the narrative. People in the story may be watching a show or sports broadcast on television (or if the period is earlier, listening to the same on radio) when all of a sudden, the program is cut off and a voice declares “We interrupt this program”, then detailing a grave situation happening in the area and perhaps advising the audience to evacuate. This system still works with alerts sent to smartphones instead, although nowadays people are more likely to be watching or listening unbothered to an online streaming service instead. But even this situation might change soon.
The Verge has it that federal legislators are discussing the possibility of having streaming services be also included in the mass media platforms that will receive and broadcast emergency alerts as they come. In doing so they will interrupt any song or streaming show to give out that alert, just like with broadcast TV and phones. This is the push of the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement Act, called “READI” for short, which is being authored in Congress by Senators from Hawaii and South Dakota.
If the READI Act is accepted by the major streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, perhaps even Spotify too, then once enacted into law the proposal will enable emergency alerts to arrive on stream. Consumers can then expect their binge of “The Crown” or “The Handmaid’s Tale” to be potentially paused while an alert bulletin warns them of an approaching hurricane, tornado, volcanic eruption, or any similar calamity.
The impetus for the READI Act, and the reason why Hawaiian Senators are among those introducing it for legislation, comes from a recent event back in January when residents in that state received a fraudulent phone alert that a ballistic missile was inbound, urging them to seek shelter. The alert was later discovered to have occurred due to human error and was not a deliberate hack.
Still, government agencies and lawmakers were spurred into action. The FCC went to work modifying the national Emergency Alert System to prevent similar mishaps. The push being given to the READI Act is to provide an additional venue for issuing emergency warnings, with the provision that bugs be ironed out so that only real alerts will be sent to streaming platforms for dissemination in case of a real emergency.
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