Today, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, successfully offered an amendment to H.R. 3563, the "Alert and Warning System Modernization Act of 2011" during a full Committee Markup of the Committee on Homeland Security. The amendment, which was agreed to by unanimous consent, will aim to improve reception of emergency alerts to areas with underdeveloped telecommunications infrastructure. Congressman Thompson delivered the following remarks regarding his amendment:
"Our ability to protect those in harm's way is only as good as the warning system used to prepare them.
Hurricane Katrina and the tornadoes that struck the Midwest last year taught us that timely alerts that provide clear messages are critical to ensuring that people are able to survive a disaster.
That is why I am concerned about the effect that cuts to funding for State and local grant programs over the past two years have had - and will continue to have - on the ability of State and local government to invest in the alert and warning technology necessary to carry out the goal of IPAWS.
I am particularly concerned about how these cuts have affected the alerts capabilities in rural areas and other areas with underdeveloped telecommunications technology.
My amendment would ensure that the Integrated Public Alerts and Warning System can better reach people living in non-urban areas and areas with underdeveloped telecommunications infrastructure.
Mississippi ranks 41st in the Nation, when it comes to availability of broadband technology, with just over 76 percent of Mississippi's residents living in areas with four or more Internet service providers.
This digital divide not only has economic implications but impacts emergency preparedness.
We have an obligation to protect those living in rural and less developed areas with limited access to telecommunications technology are not "out of sight, out of mind" when a disaster strikes. My amendment would make ensuring access to warning and alert technologies for these populations a priority."