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FCC Moves To Streamline Emergency 'Blue Alerts' For Threats To Law Enforcement

Former President Barack Obama signed the Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act of 2015, surrounded by the families of two New York police officers who were killed in an ambush attack.

In May 2015, then-President Barack Obama signed into law legislation that created a new kind of public emergency notification — the Blue Alert.

It's similar to the well-known Amber Alert for abducted children, but is meant to help catch people who credibly threaten or actually harm law enforcement officials.

The law was named after two New York Police Department officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were killed in an ambush attack by a man who hours earlier had shot a woman near Baltimore.

The Department of Justice has since launched the National Blue Alert Network, and states can already set plans for how or when to issue such alerts. But now it's asking to FCC for an easy and consistent way to transmit Blue Alerts around the U.S.

The Federal Communications Commission oversees the nation's broadcast airwaves and the technical operation of the Emergency Alert System, a nationwide system for alerts that get transmitted on radio and TV.

At the request of the Justice Department, the FCC will now consider creating a designated Blue Alert "event code," a technical code that streamlines and otherwise organizes how TV and radio stations, cable companies and other video providers receive and spread such alerts.

For instance, Amber Alerts or tornado warnings have designated event codes that determine how the notification is titled and presented when it's fed to the alerting equipment at a broadcast station.

Following the FCC's unanimous vote on Thursday, the agency will begin accepting public comment on the proposed Blue Alert plan and its various elements.

According to FCC officials, the alert would go out when a suspect is at large and there's "actionable" information for the public — such as a clear description — in circumstances that involve an imminent, credible threat to a law enforcement officer or when a law enforcement officer is missing, seriously injured or killed in the line of duty.

As is the case with Amber Alerts, the state and local officials would make the call when or whether to issue Blue Alerts.

"The dangers of police work have always been known and accepted by those who serve, but few could have imagined the vicious and often premeditated attacks on officers, which occur far to often," the Justice Department's Vince Davenport said in remarks at the FCC on Thursday. "These attacks on law enforcement contribute to an erosion of public safety, which is a hallmark of free society."

Davenport, who is National Blue Alert deputy coordinator at the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, said that a designated code would "dramatically improve the effectiveness" of the Blue Alert system and "most importantly, would save lives."

The FCC will accept public comments on the Blue Alert proposal for three months.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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