Emergency alerts could soon interrupt streaming services like Netflix, Spotify

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Emergency alerts could soon interrupt streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify.   

The Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement, or READI Act, was introduced by Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Senator John Thune  (R-S.D). 

It would require online streaming services to carry broadcast emergency alerts.

“My main form of watching tv is on Netflix, and I always have Spotify, and I feel like you can’t walk around town and not see people with headphones in streaming something,” said Waikiki resident Karly Lynch. 

The bill, if passed, would interrupt whatever you’re watching or listening to with the information you need to stay safe.

“I think it’s helpful,” says Los Angeles resident Brianna Smith. “We’ve had a lot of flash floods in California lately and it’s been really helpful to know what areas to avoid even if it’s not in our immediate vicinity just to know if you plan on driving somewhere to tak a different route.” 

The proposed bill would also eliminate the option of opting out of receiving certain federal alerts on your cell phone.

“That’s a good idea because we found that some people have opted out without knowing it and so making it impossible to opt out is probably better for the system as a whole, and to ensure people get the alerts,” says Richard Rapoza, PIO for Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. 

“I didn’t know you could shut them off and I don’t think that necessarily its safe,” Smith added. “More people have cell phones than televisions so it seems it would be useful to keep it as something everyone can go through. You can silence them quickly— but it seems like it’s a no brainer.”

In a written statement, Sen. Schatz wrote:

When a missile alert went out across Hawaii in January, some people never got the message on their phones, while others missed it on their TVs and radios. Even though it was a false alarm, the missile alert exposed real flaws in the way people receive emergency alerts.

According to the bill, the READI Act would also:

  • Require active alerts issued by the President or FEMA to be repeated. Currently, alerts on TV or radio may only be played once;
  • Explore establishing a system to offer emergency alerts to audio and video online streaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify;
  • Encourage State Emergency Communications Committees to periodically review and update their State Emergency Alert System Plans, which are often out of date;
  • Compel FEMA to create best practices for state, tribal, and local governments to use for issuing alerts, avoiding false alerts, and retracting false alerts if they occur, as well as for alert origination training and plans for officials to contact each other and federal officials during emergencies; and
  • Establish a reporting system for false alerts so the FCC can track when they occur and examine their causes.

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