New Yorkers and Washingtonians will soon be able to elect to be on the SMS list in case of emergencies. More terrorism/nature emergencies than "there's a cat stuck in the tree on 112th Avenue!", the service will go live later this year.
However, the Personal localised Alerting Network (PLAN) service won't be available to all. Mobile phones must be equipped with a chip to be able to receive the alerts, along with software - this is favourable, claims the FCC chairman, because it will make it harder for hackers and spammers to send out fake texts. While the service's details are still being hashed out (they don't know if the messages will be sent by text, through an app or otherwise), you'll have to be a Verizon, AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile customer reportedly.
Some of the texts will be issued by Obama himself and will be mandatory to those subscribed to the service. Other alerts, about missing children or public safety threats, can be opted out of. After New York and Washington are checked off the list, the rest of the country will be able to sign up to the service too. [NYT and Wired]