Judge Emmett says his request to FCC could save lives during flooding event

“When we over-alert we might be doing more harm than good,” said Francisco Sanchez with the Office of Emergency Management.

When Harvey hit last year everyone in the third most populous county in the nation got the same message from the Wireless Emergency Alert System. It was the first time Harris County had used the system.

“Anyone with a smart phone can order a pizza and have it delivered to the location you’re at now,” Sanchez said. “All we are asking is that today’s technology that already exists in your smart phone be also used to make sure we can let you know you’re in harm’s way.”

The county says it’s known for a few years now the Emergency Alert System can be as specific as one-tenth of a mile.

Officials say utilizing the enhanced geo-targeting capabilities for the alert system during Harvey would have enabled them to give immediate alerts to residents in very specific areas.

“One of those would have been along Buffalo Bayou where we saw some water coming from Addicks Barker,” Sanchez said. “We could have had the capability to draw that map and let people know in the middle of the night through their cell phones what was going to happen.”

“It was very traumatic. It was out first time experiencing any flooding,” said Michelle Comstock.

Comstock says her Meyerland home had never flooded before Harvey. She says she can see how residents could benefit by getting neighborhood specific alerts.

“I do think it would definitely be helpful,” Comstock said. “My concern is will those people be able to get out of the neighborhood but you might at that point be able to go to your next door neighbor who has a two-story home and not a one-story."

Wireless carriers want 36 months or more before offering the geo-targeting alerts, but Judge Emmett says the time is now. He’s asking the Federal Communication Commission to make it ready by May of next year. The FCC is expected to make a ruling by the end of this month.