In today’s world, the most effective way to reach those who might be in harm’s way, no matter what type of hazard it may be, is through mobile phones. Those who have received a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) know it is almost impossible to ignore due to the blaring alarm tone that accompanies the text message. These alerts, which can target cell phones in specific geographic areas, are typically used for severe weather or Amber alerts.
Some might wonder why WEAs are necessary at all, with so many readily available news sources. For one, people are easily overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information online. Secondly, while many people follow the news or check social media every day, there are millions of Americans who do not, whether that’s by choice or because of the nature of their jobs or daily routines.
During an emergency or crisis, the WEA system offers a direct line of communication to every American with a cellphone. It also offers an opportunity to cut through the noise — and misinformation — that can limit the reach and effectiveness of important public safety messages.
In the case of Covid-19, a single presidential alert stressing the importance of wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing hands could save thousands of lives before vaccines are widely available later next year. The Biden Administration, in consultation with public health experts and communication specialists, should start crafting an alert to be issued on Inauguration Day or shortly thereafter.
Sending such an alert would broadcast a lifesaving message to the vast majority of Americans, and also serve as a symbolic gesture to the nation — and world — that the US government is finally treating this virus as a national emergency.