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Wireless Emergency Alerts will be longer, more specific, sent to more places

Used for Amber alerts, natural disasters, and every other critical warning in between, the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system has gotten a nice shot in the arm from the Federal Communications Commission that looks to strengthen its capabilities in the face of new technologies.

Since WEA’s launch in 2012, messages were restricted to 90 characters. That can be a good number in certain cases, but the limitation was put in the spotlight earlier in September when New York City issued its first WEA message related to a wanted suspect. In that case, the WEA was on the lookout for one Ahmad Rahami, an identified suspect in the Chelsea neighborhood bombing. Even though the message included his name and age, it did not include other specific details, such as an image.

According to the new rules, the maximum length will be increased to 360 characters for 4G LTE and future networks. However, the wording implies that those on 2G and 3G networks will still receive WEAs with 90 characters. Digital Trends reached out to the FCC for clarification on the matter and will update accordingly.

The government agency also brought into the fold Public Safety Messages, a new type of alert that will list essential and recommended actions for folks in affected areas in order to keep themselves or their property free from harm. Other additions include sending WEA messages to “more granular geographic areas,” with participating carriers required to embed phone numbers and URLs in every WEA message. This allows people to click to see a photo of a suspect or missing child, as well as call the authorities from the message.

The new rules also mandate supporting carriers to be able to send out Spanish-language alerts. Finally, the rules promise to make it easier for state and local authorities to test out the WEA system, train personnel, and better educate the public about the system.

It is unknown when the updates WEA rules will go into effect, but seeing how the FCC already approved them, it should just be a matter of time until they are formally instituted.