If the public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and its partners have their way, Americans in the near future will have the ability to receive emergency alerts on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile digital devices when a natural disaster or terrorist attack strikes. Known as Mobile Digital Television (MDTV), the technology already proved a lifesaver in Japan after the country suffered massive devastation during an earthquake and tsunami last year.
Throughout the first quarter of this year, four PBS stations—WGBH Boston, KLVX Vegas, WBIQ Birmingham, and WAIQ Montgomery—have been carrying out a pilot project funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the mobile device manufacturer LG Electronics to test what it’s calling the Mobile Emergency Alert System, also known as Mobile EAS (MEAS).
“With the Mobile EAS service, we’ll be able to send everything from AMBER alert photos to detailed maps with escape routes, live video, and extensive information that viewers will find invaluable in a disaster,” said John McCoskey, PBS Chief Technology Officer, in a statement announcing the pilot programs.
The point of the project is to show how commercial and public broadcasters can broadcast rich-media emergency alerts—using video, audio, text, and graphics—over the air to consumers’ mobile digital devices when augmented by an MDTV receiver. Currently, almost no mobile digital devices in the United States have MDTV capability.
The pilot will also seek to determine how to best package rich messages so that they are user friendly during a disaster. “A good picture is worth a thousand words,” says John Lawson, executive director of the Mobile 500 Alliance, a voluntary association of television broadcasters interested in taking MDTV national. “A little bit of video might be worth ten thousand words.”
MDTV proponents in the United States point to Japan to prove the technology’s lifesaving power.
Since January 2007, Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, has offered earthquake and tsunami alerts to citizens over its mobile digital television receivers, known as One-Seg. This capability played a critical role in warning Japanese citizens of the massive tsunami triggered by the devastating 9.0 earthquake last March. “Many lives were saved by informing people of the tsunami alert through One-Seg,” the government of Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications wrote in the August issue of ITU News.