Wait, what? Feds say warning us about military attacks isn’t their job.

Tweet sent by Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency after it sent a false missile attack alert via the Emergency Alert System Jan. 13, 2018.
Tweet sent by Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency after it sent a false missile attack alert via the Emergency Alert System Jan. 13, 2018.

Well, this is interesting and a bit surprising. NPR reported today that federal officials say it’s not their role to warn the public about missiles.

If the feds are the ones who can detect an attack, aren’t the feds the ones who should warn us about it?

Ever since I was a kid in the 1960s, I expected to hear directly from the federal government if the United States came under attack.

In the early 1950s, the federal government established the CONELRAD system, in part to enable the feds to continuously broadcast enemy attack information to the public using radio or TV stations. I remember that one of the first electronic kits I ever built was a CONELRAD detector, which would turn on a light if a radio station to which it was tuned went off the air. It wasn’t intended to be practical, but began to teach me about electronics and emergency communications.

The Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) replaced CONELRAD in 1953. Its purpose was similar to CONELRAD’s; “to provide the President of the United States with an expeditious method of communicating with the American public in the event of war, threat of war, or grave national crisis.” This meant the federal government was still acknowledging a responsibility to communicate such information directly to the public, vs. expecting states to do it.

I don’t know when the federal government handed off to states the task of alerting the public to military attacks (if you do, leave a comment). Perhaps it happened when the EBS morphed into our current Emergency Alert System (EAS) in 1997.  It seems ridiculous to me, however, because the ability to detect such attacks lies with the Department of Defense (a federal agency). If the feds are the ones who can detect an attack, aren’t the feds the ones who should warn us about it?

Earlier this month, U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) introduced the Authenticating Local Emergencies and Real Threats (ALERT) Act (S.2385), legislation that would give the federal government the sole responsibility of alerting the public of a missile threat.  If you agree that military attack warnings should again come from the feds, drop a line to your U.S. senator and ask him or her to support  S.2385.

 

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