The Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency said it would perform the unified aggregator/gateway role for the fledgling Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) after all. The system, mandated by the Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act, would provide the framework for commercial wireless carriers to send text alerts to their customers during emergencies.

The announcement represented an about-face for FEMA, which originally declined to take on the role because it believed it lacked the statutory authority to do so, an action that drew the ire of FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. He called FEMA's failure to step up “especially disheartening” because the agency had a hand in establishing the aggregator/gateway function as a key component of the CMAS. Copps also said that without that function, the CMAS wouldn't be able to function.

Though FEMA has been responsible for transmitting messages from the president to the American people since the emergency-alert system was established in 1994 — and for ensuring the infrastructure existed to transmit such messages — the agency historically has not played any role in authenticating emergency alerts from state and local officials, said FEMA spokeswoman Mary-Margaret Walker in an e-mail response.

Consequently, FEMA needed to determine whether it had the legal authority to authenticate messages sent by a state or local emergency official and to develop and maintain such a system during a non-emergency situation, Walker said.