When a magnitude 7.9 earthquake in the Gulf of Alaska forced weather authorities to declare a tsunami warning for many communities in coastal Alaska, Juneau resident Bonny Hilton Dansie’s phone remained silent.
Electronic notifications went out to cellphones across the state early Tuesday morning, but not all of them. Dansie’s phone wasn’t one of them. Both she and her husband Richard have GCI phones, and neither of them got an emergency alert.
The only phone of theirs that did get a notification was one with Verizon service that they hadn’t used in two months.
Heather and Richard weren’t the only people in Juneau or Southeast who didn’t receive a cellphone notification. As a result of a complex and long-term process with the Federal Communications Commission, GCI and other smaller providers don’t automatically send federal emergency alerts.
GCI Director of Corporate Communications Heather Handyside explained Tuesday that Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are still at least a few months away for GCI.
Getting those alerts set up through the FCC is a long and complicated process, Handyside said, and many smaller providers don’t have the resources to get the system set up quickly.
National providers, such as AT&T or Verizon, were required to have the WEA system set up in 2017. Smaller providers were given an extension until May 2019 to get the system in place. Handyside said GCI will get it off the ground long before that.
“GCI’s been working hard for almost six months now to put the system in place,” Handyside said, “and the good news is we’re only a few months away from being complete.”
In the interim, GCI has set up a free application for iOS and Android phones that can serve the same purpose. The app is simply called GCI Alerts, and Handyside said that GCI customers who had that app downloaded received an alert Tuesday morning.