Free presidential alerts, AMBER alerts, threat alerts for cell phone users

If you've ever wondered why you get certain alerts it is because there is no sign-up and no charge for Wireless Emergency Alert system.

In April 2012, the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system was activated as part of a new national public safety system.

Jointly sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and CTIA-The Wireless Association, this program offers three kinds of alerts.  Free, concise, text-like messages will be delivered to WEA-capable mobile devices whenever one of the following occur:

  • Presidential Alerts:  Issued by the President or a designee in the event of a national emergency (no president has yet to issue one).
  • Imminent Threat Alerts:  Typically issued by the National Weather Service regarding severe man-made or natural disasters including hurricane, earthquake, tornado, etc. where imminent danger to life or property exists.
  • AMBER AlertsIssued in situations that meet the U.S. Department of Justice criteria to help law enforcement search for and locate an abducted child.

There is no need for mobile users to download an app or subscribe to a service. Most newer cell phones are WEA-capable. In some cases, users may need to upgrade the phone’s software. The wireless industry estimates that by 2014 nearly all mobile phones on the market will be WEA-capable.

Though the alerts resemble a text message, there are some important differences. WEA uses a special technology that ensures alerts are delivered immediately where standard text messages can be delayed during times of heavy wireless network use. These alerts are also accompanied by a unique ringtone and vibration that will be repeated twice.

Alerts will be sent by authorized government entities and their partners including the National Weather Service, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, FCC, local and state public safety agencies. If you are unsure that your mobile device is capable of receiving alerts, check with your wireless carrier.

Even those with prepaid cell phones can receive an alert as long as their phone is WEA-enabled and their wireless carrier has chosen to participate in the program.

The alerts are broadcast from cell towers to all WEA-capable mobile devices in that geographic area via the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS).  When CMAS receives an alert from an authorized government official, it is forwarded to participating wireless carriers for broadcast. Alerts are only issued to mobile devices currently present in an area of threat. If you travel into a threat area after an alert has been sent, your WEA-capable device will receive the message when you enter that area if the threat is still active.

Emergency alerts will not interrupt any calls or downloads in progress. If you are in the midst of a phone call when an alert is broadcast, you will receive the message when you end your call. If desired, cell phone users can choose to opt out of Imminent Danger and AMBER Alerts but not Presidential Alerts. The procedure to opt out varies by wireless carrier. Check your owner’s manual or wireless carrier’s website for instructions.

You may receive frequent WEA messages during a particular emergency situation to keep you apprised of current conditions and recommended actions.  These brief messages contain basic information about the type of alert, areas affected and expected duration of the emergency. After receiving a WEA message, you may want to seek additional information from local media or authorities.

If you do not have a WEA-capable mobile device, there are other ways to receive emergency notifications including NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR), news media coverage, the Emergency Alert System on radio and TV broadcasts, social media, and other methods utilized by local and state public service agencies to alert citizens.

Another source of information during and following an emergency is the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN), which Michigan State University Extension takes part in and contributes to. This website offers a wealth of disaster-related information provided by Extension professionals throughout the U.S. In addition to uploading reports about current disaster situations in their area, each Extension university in the EDEN system appoints a staff person to act as their primary point of contact, other staff to serve as delegates, and maintains a section of EDEN’s online resource catalog with pertinent disaster-related articles written by members of their staff. Take time now to check out the many useful resources available at MSU Extension’s EDEN page as well as the MSU Extension home page.

Category: Not sure where this best fits in your current list of categories…perhaps this could go in the Livable Communities section of the Community category…..and /or wherever else you see fit.

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