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FCC Will Weigh New EAS Code for Missing Persons (Code MEP)

22 Feb 2024 by Monty Tayloe

The FCC will consider an NPRM seeking comment on adding a new alert code to the emergency alert system focused on missing and endangered people during a commissioners' March 14 open meeting, said a news release Wednesday. The Missing and Endangered Persons (MEP) code would alert the public about missing people who don’t meet the criteria for Amber Alerts, which are primarily for missing children. The March agenda also includes draft supplemental coverage from space rules and a cybersecurity labeling program for wireless IoT devices (see 2402210057).

The alert code NPRM stems in part from calls by Native American groups for the FCC to address the rising number of missing and murdered indigenous people, though the code would be used for any missing person.

Amber Alerts have been effective, but there’s no similar system for other missing people, “particularly the thousands of missing native and indigenous women who have disappeared from their homes never to be seen again,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in an FCC news release. A new alert category “can close this gap, help ensure no person who is missing and in danger is left behind, and save lives.” The NPRM "would also pose questions about the relationship of this potential new alerting category with the Wireless Emergency Alert system, which does not use event codes like the Emergency Alert System does," the release said.

Native Americans “are far more likely to go missing or to have their lives in danger,” said Loris Taylor, president of Native Public Media (NPM), an advocate of the code. In November, the National Congress of American Indians passed an NPM-sponsored resolution urging the FCC to create the MEP code. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaska Native women were victims of the second-highest rate of homicide in 2020, and homicide was among the leading causes of death for them that year.

Taylor said there's a “pandemic” of missing people that disproportionately affects Native Americans but that the code will help everyone. “It’s not a situation that is happening to someone else; it is happening to families across the country,” she said. “Violence against Native people is a crisis, and far too many families and communities have suffered as a result. The federal government must take more decisive action to properly notify their loved ones and locate these individuals to keep families together,” Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., said in the release.

"We look forward to seeing the details of Chairwoman Rosenworcel's proposal, particularly how it encompasses the various state messaging procedures for missing and endangered persons," said Ed Czarnecki, vice president-global and government affairs for EAS equipment company Digital Alert Systems. Several states use additional alert codes for different classes of missing persons, such as the Silver alerts issued for missing senior citizens. The MEP will create a nationwide system for missing persons alerts, Taylor told us.

Public safety items often draw bipartisan support at the FCC, industry officials note. In 2017, the agency created an emergency code for violence against police officers (BLU). Though broadly supported, it drew opposition from trade groups and EAS industry officials concerned that updating equipment would be expensive, that the alert was redundant, and that more alerts dilute the existing ones and lead to alert fatigue. In the end, then-Chairman Ajit Pai’s FCC approved the Blue Alert 4-1, with then-Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel partially dissenting, objecting to the wording of the item’s cost-benefit analysis rather than to the additional code (see 1712140045).


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