The US government unveiled a communications system that in case of emergency should soon allow it to send SMS alerts to Americans' mobile phones and computers.
"We have the ability to do this. It's a major step," Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director David Paulson told reporters outside the US capital as he unveiled the program's design.
The Digital Emergency Alert System (DEAS) will include the participation of television networks and public radio stations and be based on an existing alert system built in the Cold War era for use in the event of a nuclear attack.
The new system will initially allow the government to quickly alert public organizations and first-aid groups in case of an emergency.
It is planned to become operational in southern and eastern states by the end of the year, and nationally at the end of 2007.
At the same time, the government said it will build a system that can also send alerts to mobile phone users and computers linked to the Internet.
The SMS messages will be sent out in case "something unfortunate has happened," said John Lawson, president and chief executive officer of the Association of Public Television Stations.
Internet-linked computers will automatically switch on to a video message from the US Department of Homeland Security while downloading instructions prepared specifically from natural disasters, chemical and nuclear attacks, and other calamities.