BALTIMORE (WJZ)—Federal authorities are planning to revolutionize how we get emergency warnings, and they’re using the technology most Americans keep with them every minute of every day.

Derek Valcourt explains how your cell phones will change emergency communications.

Thanks to agreements from all of the major cell phone companies in the United States, messages that could save your life will soon be popping up on your cell phone.

Whether it’s a terrorist bomb plot in Times Square, a devastating tsunami in Japan or a gunman opening fire on a college campus, in real life emergencies, every minute of warning matters.

That’s why after the Virginia Tech shootings, colleges nationwide implemented new emergency plans to warn students in the fastest way possible: with their cell phones.

“Time is of the importance when you are asking people to take action,” said Robert Rowan, UMBC.

The notification system at University of Maryland Baltimore County sends instant emergency alerts to students’ cell phones and email.  Officials there said it came in handy two years ago when a bomb was found nearby.

“And we were able to send a message out to the campus that there was an incident in the biopark, avoid that area,” Rowan said.

With more and more Americans getting their news from mobile devices, the federal government will soon be able to send warning directly to your cell phone.

From terrorist threats, natural weather disasters, Amber Alerts for missing children, even direct messages from the president, it’s all part of the new system called PLAN: Personal Localized Alerting Network.

“If people need to take action, the system can transmit instructions, clearly, accurately, and in a timely manner, which is something that could save countless lives,” said New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Thanks to the nation’s vast system of cell phone towers, only those who need a warning will get it. In other words, a warning intended for Baltimore would only reach cell phones nearby.

“We have a very hard time reaching people, especially people who are mobile,” said Richard Muth, MEMA director.

The Maryland Emergency Management director says the new system will supplement, not replace TV and radio alerts.

“So rather than just blasting messages out, hoping that people will see it, this will give us another tool to make sure they get the information,” Muth said.

GPS technology makes it all possible. If your phone has GPS capability, you can expect to start receiving those warnings either late this year or early next year.

The Personal Localized Alerting Network is expected to be operational nationwide by February 2012.

All warnings sent to your cell phone will be free of charge.


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