20110315 train japan 54
Commuters make their way after train services are suspended after an 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Tokyo, Japan. - 

We speak to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski about the new system, dubbed Personal Localized Alerting Network, or PLAN. He says it will launch in New York City by the end of this year and he expects it to be up and running nationwide by April 2012.

If you sign up for PLAN, you'll get a special alert whenever there is real trouble. Something like a tornado or terrorist attack; it's not meant for day-to-day business or traffic jam alerts. In fact, Genachowski said, the hope is that it's a technology you'll never need but that will work well if you do. PLAN will be able to tell you what's going on and what you need to do about it right away.

Not every phone can support PLAN. Older phones especially were not constructed with this kind of capability in mind. But Genachowski is confident that as the plan ramps up, more and more new devices will work their way into the system. He says in Japan, a similar system was in place that allowed a lot of people to be alerted before tsunami waves hit and that saved a lot of lives.

Also in this program, Microsoft says it will integrate Skype into some existing products like Xbox. Are you ready for video email?

Follow John Moe at @johnmoe