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Pre-Dawn Wireless Emergency Alert Wakes Up NYC 382

Posted by Soulskill
from the first-world-problems dept.
New submitter SkiTee94 writes "Many people, perhaps millions, in and around NYC were loudly awoken shortly before 4am this morning by an activation of the Wireless Emergency Alert system. As the New York Times is reporting, the alert was related to an ongoing search for a missing child. Given that the alert asked people to look out for a 'Tan Lexus ES300' with NY Plate 'GEX1377,' many New Yorkers are questioning the logic of waking up the whole city to ask them to look for a car. Normally such alerts are reserved for road-side signs. While emergency authorities have yet to give a precise reason for why the decision was made to wake up the city, many have taken the step of deactivating these alerts to avoid future jolting mid-slumber alarms (likely not the intended result of last night's exercise)."
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Pre-Dawn Wireless Emergency Alert Wakes Up NYC

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  • Alert (Score:5, Informative)

    by alphatel (1450715) * on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:04PM (#44311297)
    The actual alert was even more cryptic due to texting truncation
    "LIC/GEX1377 NY 1995 Tan Lexis"
    Kind of a pre-dawn WTF. Told my wife it was my boss asking for directions to the strip club. Did NOT get a free massage.
  • by Sparticus789 (2625955) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:07PM (#44311317) Journal

    You would think in a city with thousands of cameras and surveillance assets, they could find a single car. It's not like the car could get very far, it's New York!

  • I can barely keep track of the cars around me in some traffic patterns, much less take the time to read each license plate. And seriously, a tan Lexus? Here in Texas, it's inevitably "white Ford Explorer" or "Blue black Chevy pickup" or some other horribly common vehicle. Maybe if kidnappers start driving more distinct cars, like an old VW painted like a ladybug or something, I'll be a little more alert to it.

    • I wonder if you can get a free pass for any reckless driving charges by explaining that you were looking around for the tan Lexus instead of watching in front of you. Wait a second, this whole thing must be a trap since we know using handheld electronics while driving is illegal! ENTRAPMENT!
  • Phone alerts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Valdrax (32670) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:08PM (#44311333)

    While emergency authorities have yet to give a precise reason for why the decision was made to wake up the city, many have taken the step of deactivating these alerts to avoid future jolting mid-slumber alarms (likely not the indented result of last night's exercise).

    I don't live in NYC, but my phone settings were recently updated by AT&T to display Amber Alerts and weather alerts. The very first moment one of these went off while I was driving, I decided to shut it off forever as a menace. After all, I noticed that I wasn't the only driver wobbling a little in their lane right after it happened.

    If I was woken in the early morning by one of these things, I just hope I'd have the presence of mind not to throw the damned thing out a window!

    • by swb (14022)

      I've gotten 3 weather alerts already. Living in Minneapolis I question the value of sending Flash Flood alerts; I think the number of people who are at risk from Flash Flooding in their homes is pretty small in this state (it may be larger in coastal or river delta areas).

      Was it an AT&T update that did this? There's definitely software support for it in IOS as I can see where to turn it on/off in my iPhone settings.

    • Re:Phone alerts (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ducomputergeek (595742) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @05:23PM (#44312081)

      When there is a tornado warning my phone alerts me 3 - 5 minutes before the sirens in the neighborhood go off. That 3 - 5 minutes can mean the difference between getting to the basement and living, being horribly injured as friends of mine in Joplin were, or being dead. I'll leave the feature on.

  • Not just NYC (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TrumpetPower! (190615) <ben@trumpetpower.com> on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:09PM (#44311339) Homepage

    Last week there was an Amber Alert in the Valley of the Sun. A bit later, I thought that such a system was too easy to abuse...imagine an Amber Alert that says it's for a kidnapped child but actually happens to be for a political dissident like Snowden...and that's when I turned off the Amber Alerts.

    They've also been excessively over-zealous about thunderstorm alerts, but I'm not quite yet ready to turn those off. But if they don't clean up their act fast, I will.

    b&

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mariox19 (632969)

      [I]magine an Amber Alert that says it's for a kidnapped child but actually happens to be for a political dissident like Snowden...and that's when I turned off the Amber Alerts.

      You do know that weather alerts and amber alerts can be turned off, but not alerts sent out by the President of the United States [fcc.gov], right?

      I don't know about you, comrade, but I sometimes wonder what's going on in this country.

      • by jandrese (485)
        An alert sent personally from the President of the US had better be something like "US under space alien attack, everybody hide!"

        If he starts sending out campaign crap or something, then I'll get up in arms, but thus far it seems like a useful thing to be able to alert the entire country when some major major major shit goes down.
        • by awyeah (70462) *

          I *think* that the Presidential message is probably the same thing as an Emergency Action Notification [wikipedia.org], which has never been used before.

          • by jandrese (485)
            Yeah, when you've reserved the function for only the most dire of emergencies then it's a good an useful system. It's hard to imagine someone getting online and complaining "I was woken up at 2AM and it was only nuclear war!!! Don't they know that I need good uninterrupted sleep to be productive at my job?!?"
      • by 1s44c (552956)

        You do know that weather alerts and amber alerts can be turned off, but not alerts sent out by the President of the United States [fcc.gov], right?

        I don't know about you, comrade, but I sometimes wonder what's going on in this country.

        That seems reasonable to me. Our president isn't going to waste his time sending out alerts for every missing child. If he uses this system you know it's going to be at least a 9/11 scale situation.

        • Re:Not just NYC (Score:4, Informative)

          by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @05:05PM (#44311913)

          That seems reasonable to me. Our president isn't going to waste his time sending out alerts for every missing child. If he uses this system you know it's going to be at least a 9/11 scale situation.

          After the PATRIOT act passed, one of the first attempted invocations was by Texas state Republicans attempting to track down Democratic members of their state congress who'd left the state in order to prevent the state senate and house from reaching quorum (They had to leave the state because otherwise Texas law enforcement personnel could compel them forcibly to return to the capitol).

          Politicians will always misuse broad authority if given half a chance to do so.

  • What kind of alert system has device access permissions that let it be loud enough to wake everyone up? When I get Amber alerts, it's just a text message with a momentary vibrate.

    • by ThinkWeak (958195)
      I was surprised when the tornado warning alert went off on my phone last week here in Ohio. It was the second week that I have had the phone, a Galaxy S4. My Galaxy Nexus was more of a vibrate when one of the amber alerts or weather warnings went off. When the S4 fired, it was like a portable tornado siren. I kid you not, it rivaled the testing of the emergency broadcast system on televisions.
    • The one the government mandated you can not even turn off some of them. Great way to keep em scared guys.

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        The one the government mandated you can not even turn off some of them. Great way to keep em scared guys.

        A strategy to keep people from paying attention to NSA eavesdropping news? Wow! And people keep saying how stupid government is -- time to wake up (ah-hum no pun intended.)

  • Wolf! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:11PM (#44311353)

    Wolf Wolf! Wolf!

  • for some reason... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by roc97007 (608802) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:11PM (#44311357) Journal

    ...this reminds me of the scene in fahrenheit 451 (I believe, it's been awhile) where the TV coordinates the entire population to go and look out their front door to locate a fugative. I always found that part particularly scary.

  • Well, they know it works and are now ready for the Zombpocalypse!

    which will be reported on /. the day after it starts

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:13PM (#44311383)

    Not only was it stupid to send this alert to everyone's phones, it was yet another example of Amber Alert scope creep.

    Amber Alerts are meant to be restricted to cases where "the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death." [amberalert.gov]

    This was just another case of a non-custodial parent running off with the kid. The child was not in any imminent danger. She lost custody because of violence in her home (none of which was ever directed at the child).

    • The full article says she was bipolar and had violent issues in the past.
    • by Albanach (527650)

      Amber Alerts are meant to be restricted to cases where "the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death." [amberalert.gov]

      From the NY Times article:

      "A spokesman for the Police Department said that the so-called Amber Alert was requested after officers determined that the child could have been in imminent danger, but that it was the state police that approved and sent out the alert."

      • Of course they are going to say that, else they would have to admit they broke the rules which there is absolutely no way they would do given how stupid they already look with the 4am wake-up call to everybody.

        The woman lost custody because she was fighting ("brawling") in front of the child. [nydailynews.com]

        Simply being bipolar doesn't make someone a risk for killing their kid.

    • by Maltheus (248271) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @05:48PM (#44312305)

      And this is precisely why I tune out amber alerts. I have no interest in getting involved in domestic disputes.

  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:18PM (#44311435)
    Right here on /. I predicted (and was shot down) that this alert system was going to be used badly. The simple reason is that every bureaucrat thinks their job is so very important. Thus any government weenie who got their hands on it would start sending out "helpful" messages. A missing child is not the worst use for this but per usual the government did it about as badly as they could; The message being basically useless.

    What they need to do is to make an opt in system with levels that you can opt into. Level 1 would be for situations where nearly everyone's life is peril. Say a poison gas leak where going outside will kill you. The Boston bombers manhunt would not count as level 1. Level 2 would be a warning about something that could kill you such as to stay away from an area as there is a poison gas leak there. Level 3 would be Lost children who have been taken by bad people (not a custody case) Level 4 would be things like weather alerts.

    But my guess is that the government is going to be captain obvious with most of their alerts and tell people that a storm is coming (that has been in the news for 3 straight days), then it will be political messages of grief and loss (i.e. "My heart goes out to those who...") , and eventually things like reminders to vote and recycle.

    But being the government they believe that their mission is so very important that people should not be able to opt out of this crap. The key is that people need to not be treated like children and the government should not have any special rights. If people want to opt out then they are clearly stating "I don't want your crap".
    • There already are levels to the alert system. I wasted no time turning off Amber alerts after receiving one, but I'm leaving the the other ones activated for now. I think it's a bit stupid to use the EBS tone for Amber alerts, in any case; it should be reserved for things like severe weather, zombie apocalypse, etc. If a tornado is heading for my area at 2 AM, I want to know about it.

      There's a "Presidential alert" that can't be disabled, though. Hopefully, it won't ever be used (because it's likely that it

  • So they're going to forcible alert everybody for everything now?

    People will rapidly start tuning them out or finding ways to disable it.

    Do not go straight to "notify everybody every time anything happens" -- because then you're just crying wolf.

    What next, go beyond wireless and automatically phone every land line? This is so incredibly stupid it isn't funny -- if you have a missing child, don't call me about it.

  • Citys / counties to big for the system?

    I used deal with BS like this on cable floods and other stuff any where in the same big county used to trigger the sound cut off / on screen text. (added by the cable co and not the local tv channels)

    Meany years ago and only on the SD channels. I have directv now so I don't get this stuffed added by the cable co.

  • But clearly the phones need to provide better software so that people can block alerts by time of occurence. e.g., all those naysayers could block alerts between 10pm-7am had the software allowed.
    • by Proteus (1926)

      If there is a real civil emergency, you need the system to notify people whether they want the notification or not. The problem is that the city used this emergency notification system to tell people about a risk to one single individual.

  • This has happened at least four times in the last year or so in Atlanta. Amber alerts get treated by many phones as any other emergency alert, and they happen to go out between 1 and 4 am to the entire metro area, so the missing child could be up to 50 miles away. A lot of my friends have turned off emergency alerts completely because of this.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:27PM (#44311521)
    Too many custody battle child-nappings or teen runaways. When you get a rare stranger kidnapping, how would you know then?

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