WRAL demos future of emergency alerts

Posted September 13, 2012
Updated September 14, 2012

— On Thursday, WRAL became the first commercial television station in the nation to demonstrate a new technology called the Mobile Emergency Alert System.

Once it is fully developed and deployed, M-EAS will offer emergency responders and the media a new way to communicate with the public in a crisis. It could save lives. meas21 M-EAS preview event in Raleigh

When a natural disaster or terrorist attack occurs, millions of people turn first to their cellphone – to find out what is going on and to check on loved ones. All those calls, text messages and web searches have been shown to clog cellphone networks. That’s what happened after an earthquake rocked the eastern seaboard in 2011. People in Raleigh reported outages of 30 minutes or more.

“It’s a fragile system. It can get clogged. It can be overwhelmed,” said Sam Matheny, vice president, Policy & Innovation at Capitol Broadcasting Company, Inc., the parent of WRAL-TV.

Matheny says M-EAS would be a better way to share important information during emergencies, like hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.

Instead of using the Internet or cell phone networks, broadcasters can use a special digital TV signal to send alerts to your smart phone or other mobile device.

“Because it's being broadcast, it's one to many. It can reach an infinite number of people,” Matheny said.

Broadcasters will be able to send text alerts, web pages full of emergency information and even videos.

M-EAS emergency communication technology makes history M-EAS emergency alert technology makes history

Matheny said a similar alert system using digital TV signals worked well during last year's earthquake and tsunami in Japan. That disaster knocked 13,000 cell towers offline, but people still received emergency information on their phones, using Japan's version of the digital TV alert system.

Matheny says their experience shows that when disaster strikes in the future, the Mobile Emergency Alert System can save lives.

The M-EAS technology still is being developed. It could be a couple of years before it's available to the public.


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  • tayled Sep 14, 2012

    I can almost see it now. First there was health care, now the government will require us all to have a smart phone or some other device, in the name of national security.

  • nascar33 Sep 14, 2012

    "Haha, ham radios. They do serve a purpose, but the general public doesn't even know what you're talking about. They barely remember CB radios. Bartmeister"

    Well Homeland security knows about the Amateur Radio service especially after Katrina. Besides some of us would rather be a little more self-reliant.

  • piene2 Sep 14, 2012

    Super, yet another way to panic the public. I bet this was pushed by the retail market lobby.

  • Jimm57 Sep 14, 2012

    "Haha, ham radios. They do serve a purpose, but the general public doesn't even know what you're talking about. They barely remember CB radios. Bartmeister"

    Ha Ha! Thats a big 10-4 Good Buddy!

  • Bartmeister Sep 14, 2012

    Haha, ham radios. They do serve a purpose, but the general public doesn't even know what you're talking about. They barely remember CB radios.

  • ezLikeSundayMorning Sep 14, 2012

    It's another good tool to inform people during a disaster. We don't have any TVs at our office. Maybe someone would catch it if they had a radio on, but a third of us would find out on our smart phones and let everyone know. And we'd have more than just voice telling us what's going on.

    Durring the traffic disaster mentioned, if I could have seen where the ice line was, I could have gone another 5 miles south, headed farther east and then come back north to get home in 2 hours instead of 8. There was simply to much going on for the radio to convey the info. And yes, I could safely watch while I was at a stand still.

  • rpgrace Sep 14, 2012

    I remember the one inch snow 'disaster' back in 2005. Clogged roads, cell networks equally clogged. The ham radio was very usefull, I got all the info I needed, even got a fellow ham to call my wife and let her know where I was. Folks are too reliant on cell phones it seems.

  • admyank Sep 14, 2012

    Yet another un-needed item for something that is already out there. So while Emergency Management officials applaud it - generally, the folks who it is aimed for will likely look at it below the shout of fanfare.

  • tjdebord Sep 14, 2012

    nomorethanthat, I assume this alert system would not require an app running on your device. Basically, you register (sign-up) for the alerts and that's it. I am already registered to receive emergency alerts from another system and it comes straight through...just like if someone called your device or sent a text. The device just has to be on, but in standby mode you should have many hours of battery life on a fully charged system. It's always a good idea to have battery backup in any case...or charge your device using a car charger.

    It's true that not everyone has these "smart" devices but they wouldn't be clogging the cell towers anyway. The idea is to give people another option who wouldn't otherwise be able to make a cell call.

  • Bartmeister Sep 14, 2012

    how does this help me communicate with others?