What arrived in 2012 as the occasional text message about imminent weather issues has emerged as the key means of alerting Americans about all manner of emergencies, including Amber Alerts on missing children.
With changes approved by the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday, wireless carriers are being directed to add support for web and phone number links, as well as longer text messages.
Although people initially freaked out when their cellphones started blaring with warnings, mobile alerts have become one of the most dependable ways to alert Americans to pending issues, from hurricanes to mass shootings.
Adding links will allow government agencies to add photos and other important information to the alerts. The FCC order also increases the maximum length of the alerts from 90 to 360 characters on messages sent over LTE and future networks.
In addition, the FCC says wireless providers that take part in the alert system will need to support transmission of Spanish-language alerts as well as a new type of public safety alert that can transmit information such as the location of emergency shelter or an order to boil water