I’m writing this column on the day of the Virginia Tech national tragedy. Aside from the natural emotions from this overwhelming, random act of violence, this event struck even closer to home because one of my daughters was recently accepted into Virginia Tech, and she and a sister were planning a road trip to the campus. Our neighborhood is full of Virginia Tech flags and Hokielovers.
[ RogerGrimes's column is now a blog! Get the latest IT security news from the Security Adviser blog. ]
Several student witnesses testified that they didn’t hear the initial gunshots and warnings because they were listening to their iPods or music players. It brought to mind a thought I’ve had for the last five years, and I’m sure I’m far from alone with the concern.
We need a pervasive EWS (early warning system) that can override any and all multi-media sources.
Our internationally connected, multimedia, convergent world is quickly making our traditional EBS (early broadcast system) alerts less useful. Think about the sheer number of electronic devices that occupy our ears and eyes that aren’t connected to our traditional radio or television system: DVRs, iPods, MP3 players, media players, Internet radios, satellite radio, digital TV, and more. Many of these devices have absolutely no way of receiving an EBS alert. It will take an entire rethinking of our traditional emergency alert system, plus a coordinate open standard to be applied to all media devices.
The good news is that the United States is headed in that direction, albeit not quickly enough.
A little history first. The first national broadcast warning system was established by U.S. President Harry Truman in 1951 and was called Control of Electromagnetic Radiation (or CONELRAD). It was an invention of the cold war. It involved radio, both AM and FM, and television stations, and was solely used for national defense purposes.
CONELRAD was replaced by the Emergency Broadcast System in 1963. Its use was expanded to the National Weather Service, FCC, national wire services, and for local and regional use. It was used in over 20,000 weather events until its retirement in 1996. (Remember your grandparent’s emergency weather radio?)
EBS was replaced by a significantly more comprehensive Emergency Alert System in 1994. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) joined the FCC, National Weather Service, and the President of the United States as overseers. EAS covers dozens of radio and television frequencies, including AM, FM, VHF, UHF, satellite radio and TV, digital radio, cable television, music sources, video broadcasters, and other media sources. Those sources are required to participate by the end of 2007.
My question is whether these EWS methods can override a TiVo, iPod, DVD player, Internet videocast, or other digital media device? I’m guessing not.