Bill Proposes Opt-Out Emergency Alert System

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Source: Office of Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara)’s legislation to create an opt-out emergency alert system is headed to the Senate Floor after it unanimously passed the Senate Governmental Organization Committee with 12 votes in support today.

Senate Bill 821 (Jackson) will give counties the option of automatically enrolling every resident in a location-based emergency notification program, while preserving residents’ ability to opt-out of alerts. Many of California’s public warning systems have the ability to deliver notifications to residents based on the location of their homes, but require residents to sign up before they receive these critical cell phone and email alerts.

In contrast, a federal Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system does not require residents to sign up, but it lacks the ability to precisely target specific neighborhoods, potentially undermining efficient evacuation efforts.

When the Thomas Fire broke out, fewer than 30 percent of residents had signed up to receive county cell phone and email alerts. In the Northern California wildfires, which caused the death of 44 people, notification of residents has also been scrutinized as inadequate.

“When a disaster strikes, emergency officials must be able to notify residents quickly and effectively,” said Jackson. “With climate change creating the potential for longer and more severe wildfires in California, it is important that we strengthen our emergency alert systems to save lives by allowing officials to effectively target alerts to specific areas or neighborhoods under threat.”

Senate Bill 821 will be voted on the Senate Floor by June 1.

Jackson represents the 19th Senate District, which includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.

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