The President Will Text You When Terrorists Attack

America’s TVs and radios have the Emergency Alert System to notify people of dire local and national situations. Soon, your cell phone will act as a portable alarm for danger, too.

Today, the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Emergency Management Agency, major wireless service providers and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that PLAN—Personal Localized Alerting Network—will be available in both New York and Washington D.C. by the end of this year.

Like the alerts broadcast by television and radio stations, PLAN will warn cell owners of serious local crises, such as tornadoes and Amber Alerts, as well as national emergencies—a major terrorist attack, for example. Since PLAN is based on mobile phones’ ability to understand users’ geographical location, text message-based alerts could be highly area-specific. According to FEMA:

A customer living in downtown New York would not receive a threat alert if they happen to be in Chicago when the alert is sent. Similarly, someone visiting downtown New York from Chicago on that same day would receive the alert.

Officials say once the carriers have enabled the PLAN system, scheduled for nation-wide availability by mid-2012, subscribers will receive the text alerts automatically. If they have a PLAN-enabled phone, that is.

Right now, few cell phones are equipped to receive PLAN alerts. However, the cell phone companies have agreed to add the chips to new wireless devices as they are introduced.

FEMA, FCC launching new alert system early in D.C. and NYC [Washington Post]
Obama team to text message info on safety threats [USA Today]
New Yorkers soon to get emergency cell phone alerts in what Bloomberg calls ‘quantum leap forward’ [NY Daily News]