As of June 27th, the major wireless cell phone carriers and most local, state and federal government agencies are teaming up to automatically bring warnings of severe weather conditions and other urgent announcements to mobile electronic devices. Owners of new or relatively new cell phones and other devices across the country will soon be notified of emergencies by Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) transmitted via text messaging, an innovation that officials say will enhance public safety. The new system
extends the reach of the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) which currently issues alerts and warnings to television and radio, cable, satellite and other communication broadcasts. Weather-related emergencies will be issued through the National Weather Service (NWS), while other “Imminent Threat” alerts will be issued by state and local officials in agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Wireless customers and the issuing agencies will not be charged a fee by the carriers for these alerts nor will they have to sign up for the service. Those who do not have a WEA-enabled phone are automatically enrolled in the program, regardless of where the device service originates from. When the program is fully implemented, if an emergency happens at that location anywhere in the country, a notification will be sent. The notifications are a broadcast (one-way) technology which does not allow the senders to collect receivers’ data.
Here’s how the program is designed to work. When NWS issues weather alerts, the warnings will automatically be transmitted to a specific FEMA message center. Because cell carriers will be constantly monitoring this messaging center, as soon as an alert is posted, the carriers will send them to their towers in the affected areas. Then, any wireless device in the area that’s WEA-enabled will receive the alert through a special sound and vibration from the device to get the owner’s attention. There will be a short, text-like message on the device with enough information to let the user know that something potentially dangerous is happening in their current location.
If you’re not sure your equipment is WEA-enabled to receive the alerts, especially if you
have an older model, contact your carrier. Even for some newer devices, it may not be until the fall that new software will be available to make sure you can receive the warnings. Local public safety agencies are beginning to inform their citizens about the fact that they could soon start receiving WEA messages.
For more information, visit the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) website, http://blog.limoinsurancedirect.com/wp-admin/www.ctia.org.
One safety note: If you receive any text messages while driving, be sure you wait until you are safely off the road and at a complete stop before reading a hand-held device.