"The country has had for a very long time a very effective emergency broadcast system," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin says. "What this is going to do is put that same kind of emergency alert capability in everyone's pocket."
The wireless industry strongly supports the initiative. Participation would be voluntary, and cell phone users could opt out of the system.
"It's my lifeline. It's how I stay connected to my friends and family," a female cell phone user says.
A male cell phone user adds "I couldn't survive without it. One is a BlackBerry [wireless communication device] and one is a cell phone."
"It is so essential that I always carry it with me," another user said.
Many universities already have emergency message alert systems in the wake of the mass killings at Virginia Tech University. Last April, a lone gunman killed 32 students before killing himself.
Regional warnings would come from federal or state officials, and the president will continue to have sole responsibility for issuing nationwide alerts.
The FCC says the cell phone alert service could be in place by 2010.