U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security, will convene a hearing titled, “Surface Transportation Security: Addressing Current and Emerging Threats,” at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, January 23, 2018. The hearing will examine efforts to enhance surface transportation security including passenger and freight rail, mass transit, highways, and ports.
- The Honorable David Pekoske, Administrator, Transportation Security Administration
- Mr. John Kelly, Acting Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security
This hearing will take place in Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
Chairman John Thune
Good morning and welcome to today’s hearing on our country’s emergency alert systems.
I hope to hear from our panel this morning about what’s working, what’s not, and what we can do better to prevent false alerts like we saw with the Hawaii ballistic missile warning earlier this month.
Ensuring state and local governments have the proper tools and safeguards in place to properly alert the public of an impending emergency is absolutely critical.
False alerts not only create unnecessary panic, they undermine the integrity of the emergency alert system, leading to public distrust and confusion.
What happened in Hawaii is inexcusable and must be addressed to ensure an incident like that never happens again.
It is essential that Americans have an emergency alert system that they can trust, and overwhelmingly by and large I believe they do.
There is much that is working well with the emergency alert system; in fact, it’s arguably a model public-private program, operating as envisioned by this Committee through the WARN Act.
Industry partners, including those represented here today, have been investing to improve the system and are working collaboratively with government and public safety officials to carry out the mission.
We certainly do not want to overlook these successes, but as recent events have shown, there are problems that must be addressed.
Today’s hearing will be the first of two hearings on emergency alert systems.
In the near future, we will hold a field hearing in Hawaii to further address the January 13 ballistic missile false alarm and to follow up on the issues discussed today.
Since the early days of the Cold War, the United States has been building and improving an emergency alert system to warn our citizens, first from the risks of a Soviet attack and later expanded to include natural disasters like fires, floods, tornados, and tsunamis.
We have continued to build on this lifesaving system to include AMBER Alerts, which seek the public’s assistance when a child is in danger.
Soon, we will also have Blue Alerts, which can be issued when there is an imminent and credible threat to a law enforcement officer.
From the beginning, our emergency alert systems have harnessed the immense resources of commercial communications systems—broadcast television, and radio in the beginning, and eventually cable and satellite TV and mobile phone networks—to reach the American public as quickly and effectively as possible.
Here is how the system works – or should work.
Our alert system relies on federal, state, and local officials authorized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA to decide when an alert is appropriate, and what it should communicate.
These alerts are then sent to FEMA.
When FEMA receives an alert, it validates that it is from an authorized entity before forwarding it to the broadcasters, mobile phone service providers, and others who in turn send the alert out on televisions, radios, and mobile phones in the affected area.
The Federal Communications Commission regulates the interface between those sending the messages and the communications companies that deliver the messages to us.
Ensuring that people get the information they need, and that alerts are credible and make sense to the recipients is an ongoing process, but it is fundamental that messages must be credible.
Messages sent in error like the Hawaii ballistic missile alert run the risk of undermining the entire alert system by reducing peoples’ confidence in alerts.
While we do not want to prevent authorized officials from communicating alerts to the public when they see fit, we must ensure that such officials are better trained.
There are additional improvements we can undertake as well.
For example, there is no question that the National Weather Service’s watch and warning system saves lives, but it can also be enhanced.
That is why I included provisions in the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017, which became law last spring, that require the National Weather Service to use the latest behavioral science and stakeholder feedback to improve its watch and warning system.
We should make sure that lessons learned from one incident inform and improve future alerts.
The FCC is also taking to steps to make improvements to the alert system through the use of better geo-targeting of messages, which is being considered at its current proceeding.
That is, targeting messages to those who need to receive them and not sending them to those who don’t.
This helps avoid “alert fatigue,” and also addresses the concerns expressed by some local officials during the California wild fires last year that an overly-broad alert could result in traffic jams with those unnecessarily leaving their homes, and hindering the evacuation of those who truly needed to leave.
As we’ll hear today, the goal of providing timely emergency information to our communities is also advanced by private citizens, like those amateur or “Ham” radio operators who have helped keep people connected after tragedies like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.
Today, I am pleased to welcome Ms. Lisa Fowlkes [like “folks”], Chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau; Mr. Scott Bergmann, Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs at CTIA—The Wireless Association; Mr. Sam Matheny[muh-THEE-knee], Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of the National Association of Broadcasters; and Mike Lisenco [luh-SENK-oh], a representative of the Amateur Radio Relay League.
Thank you all for being here and I look forward to today’s discussion.
I now recognize the Ranking Member for any opening remarks he may have.
I want to thank Chairman Fischer and Ranking Member Peters for holding this hearing about current and emerging threats to our nation’s surface transportation networks from terrorist attacks.
A series of attacks over the last year or so – from attacks in London and Barcelona to those right here in the U.S. – have rung the alarm bell. We cannot be content.
Transportation remains a very real target for terrorists and those wishing to do harm.
This committee has heard that call. In 2016, we passed the Airport Security Enhancement and Oversight Act. In doing so, we took important steps to prevent insider threats to our aviation system. We increased random physical screenings and covert, red-team testing.
In addition, we have the TSA Modernization Act, which expands the use of explosive detection canines, continues efforts to expand the TSA PreCheck program and expedites deployment of security screening technology.
And while these steps are critical, the threat is ever changing. This is evidenced by the TSA’s announcement that flights originating from the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar to the United States will undergo enhanced cargo screening.
As we have discussed previously in this committee, I am concerned that our current strategy does not address the vulnerabilities we face today.
Recent incidents and the attempted attack at the New York City transit station highlight the challenges we continue to face.
We must continue to address deficiencies to secure our rail, transit, port and freight transportation systems.
I believe it’s time to reexamine our transportation security strategy and refocus our efforts.
We also need to provide sufficient funding to meet these challenges.
We cannot cut programs that help our communities prepare for and respond to threats.
And we need transit and port grants to help agencies improve their security infrastructure.
I want to thank the witnesses for coming today and I look forward to hearing from you on these issues.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable David PekoskeAdministratorTransportation Security Administration
Mr. John KellyActing Inspector GeneralDepartment of Homeland Security