Coming To A Smartphone Near You … Federal Emergency Alerts

alert triangle“This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System! This is only a test….”

For almost 50 years, television and radio stations have broadcast this test message (“broadcast” was replaced with “alert” in 1997). But alerts are now coming straight to our smartphones via the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) or Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN).

[C]ustomers who own an enabled mobile device [will] receive geographically-targeted, text-like messages alerting them of imminent threats to safety in their area. The new technology ensures that emergency alerts will not get stuck in highly congested user areas, which can happen with standard mobile voice and texting services. [The Commercial Mobile Alert System] CMAS was established pursuant to the Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act.

[...]

CMAS alerts are transmitted using a new technology that is separate and different from voice calls and SMS text messages. This new technology ensures that emergency alerts will not get stuck in highly congested user areas, which can happen with standard mobile voice and texting services.

Weather warningWeather-related alerts shocked more than a few Seattle-area residents this weekend as NOAA issued a blizzard advisory for the Cascades. The problem was that the push alert was high on drama, low on details.

Based on this one experience, it seems clear that communication/user experience professionals need to be involved.

Weather alerts must contain geo-specific information. Otherwise, they are unnecessarily scary.

Moreover, they need to include an easy way to find out more information. Like a hyperlink.

Program background

According to NOAA, the program includes ”local and state public safety agencies, FEMA, the FCC, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Weather Service.”

And the the type of alerts?

  • Extreme weather warnings
  • Local emergencies requiring evacuation or immediate action
  • AMBER Alerts
  • Presidential Alerts during a national emergency

And yes, you can opt-out of most of them (not the Presidential messages); the FCC directs you to http://www.ctia.org/wea for more information. Good luck with that.

If your smartphone has the WEA app built in, navigate to it and customize your preferences.

Carrier support

WEACClearly AT&T in the Seattle-area isn’t currently supporting the technology although Verizon and T-Mobile are (based on individual reports). My iPhone5 does not have an app called WEA in the notifications center (where you customize apps like this one) although there is a weather widget there (and I do not have it enabled).

Older phones may not be able to receive these messages but newer ones can.

To find out what’s up with your carrier, follow these links:

Other apps

Massachusetts recently launched its own emergency alert smarphone app. The app – Ping4alerts! – is free and available for both iPhone and Android devices with BlackBerry support in the works.

FEMA also has its own app. One wonders why, given the national alert system, a system that includes FEMA.

Your experience? Worthwhile service or panic monster?

One thought on “Coming To A Smartphone Near You … Federal Emergency Alerts

  1. Pingback: What About Weave? Can Weave Be An Alternative For Flipboard? (Video) | EssayBoard

  2. Even though KING-5 reports that these are text messages, technically they are not. http://www.king5.com/news/Text-message-warning-of-blizzard-freaks-out-people-in-Pierce-King-counties-183720471.html

    From my link above:
    “CMAS alerts are transmitted using a new technology that is separate and different from voice calls and SMS text messages. This new technology ensures that emergency alerts will not get stuck in highly congested user areas, which can happen with standard mobile voice and texting services.”

Leave a Reply