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After disaster alert failures, U.S. moves toward national system

After disaster alert failures, U.S. moves toward national system

Dan Whitcomb, Reuters

In California last month, two young children and their great-grandmother died in a wildfire that family members say they never saw coming.

In January, thousands of people were panic-stricken in Hawaii by a false alarm that a ballistic missile was about to strike the islands.

These and other critical failures have prompted a review of disaster alerts in the United States, which largely operate at a local level, underlining the potential need for a nationwide system, as scientists warn changing weather may bring more hurricanes and wildfires.

“For all practical purposes we don’t really have a national warning system,” Dennis Mileti, professor emeritus at the University of Colorado at Boulder, told Reuters.

Mileti, a nationally recognized expert on disaster preparedness, is on a panel the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) convened this summer to improve the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, or IPAWS, the platform established a decade ago for all U.S. emergency alerts.

Previewing its findings to Reuters, Mileti said the panel will propose to Congress to revamp national warning systems, and in cases such as ballistic missile alerts, take them out of the hands of local officials.

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