June 2018 – The Wireless RERC submitted reply comments to the FCC in response to their Public Notice inviting stakeholder input to Refresh the Record on Facilitating Multimedia Content in Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) [PS Docket Nos. 15-91 and 15-94]. The Wireless RERC is in general agreement with comments that supported the inclusion of multimedia content in WEA messages. Despite sometimes having different rationales, many commenters indicated the importance of multimedia message content in motivating people to take appropriate protective actions, and/or advancing accessibility of WEAs to people with disabilities. The Wireless RERC's reply comments acknowledged the remarks of AT&T and CTIA that discussed the technical difficulty and level of effort and resources it would require of wireless industry stakeholders to realize embedded multimedia content. In our reply comments, we urged wireless stakeholders to continue to embrace the changing expectations of public safety officials and the public with regards to an expanded suite of WEA capabilities. The most recent updates allowing for increased character length and the inclusion of URLs are expected to have a positive impact on the accessibility of the message and by extension behavioral response. Adding embedded multimedia content would further enhance WEA messages for people with disabilities and language differences, allowing for multiple cognitive and sensory pathways (visual, auditory, and linguistic) to be automatically engaged for more efficient information processing and reaction.
The Wireless RERC also supported comments made by the Consumer Groups, California Coalition of Agencies Serving the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (CCASDHH), and Gallaudet University RERC on Technology for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (joint filing) asserting that multimedia WEA messages would be particularly beneficial to people whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL). In a recently published journal article, American Sign Language & Emergency Alerts: The Relationship between Language, Disability, and Accessible Emergency Messaging, extensive reasoning is provided as to why the provision of ASL-translated emergency messages is critical. In sum, WEA messages delivered as an ASL video would allow for immediate and independent access to the message content.
Though there are technical hurdles to address (network and device-based), the Wireless RERC is optimistic that industry, government, academic, and consumer stakeholders will together, develop the technical, policy and practice solutions that will bring accessible multimedia WEA content to fruition.
 Bennett, D., LaForce, S., Touzet, C., & Chiodo, K. (2018). American Sign Language & Emergency Alerts: The Relationship between Language, Disability, and Accessible Emergency Messaging. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 36(1), 71-87.