U.S. Senator Susan Collins today called for an updated emergency warning system for the Twitter age. Today at 2:00 PM EST, the federal government will conduct the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS), which will last 30 seconds. During this period, regularly scheduled television, radio, cable, and satellite shows will be interrupted as the system is being tested.

Senator Susan Collins, the Ranking Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, will soon introduce legislation to help ensure that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) uses cutting-edge technology in addition to television, radio, cable and satellite broadcasts. Senator Collins’ bill would help ensure that alerts are provided to the largest portion of the affected population as possible including those in remote areas and those with special needs.

“FEMA has begun to embrace technology, but needs to ensure more people receive life-saving information in more parts of America, more of the time, through current and future technologies. Traditional radio and TV broadcasts remain integral to communicating emergency information, but Americans are also getting a constant stream of information from Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking platforms whether at home or on the go via smart phones and other devices. Americans are certainly not always sitting by their TV when disaster strikes, and we need to ensure that as many people as possible receive important alerts,” said Senator Collins.

“Effective communication with the public before, during, and after a disaster is vitally important and can literally mean the difference between life and death. At the same time, Americans must be able to make informed decisions about which messages they want to receive on their personal devices.”

The EAS is an alert and warning system that can be activated by the President, if needed, to provide information to the American public during emergencies. Most people know it as the crawl at the bottom or top of their television screen, and although this system is effective, times have changed and so must the way we communicate with the public during times of crisis. NOAA’s National Weather Service, governors, and state and local emergency authorities also use EAS to issue thousands of localized emergency alerts such as AMBER alerts or those for severe weather. The Wednesday test is an important exercise in ensuring that the system is effective in communicating critical information to the public in the event of a real national emergency and for capturing lessons learned.