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Emergency alerts will soon be sent to cell phones

Jesse Ritka

Emergency alerts will soon be sent to cell phones

CREATED May. 15, 2012

SULLIVAN – The next text message you get could save your life, a free “Wireless Emergency Alert” (WEA) service is being put into action.

We already get severe weather warnings on television and radio, but in June we could get a text message warning us of storms and events that put lives in danger.

Steve Brueske is the Meteorologist in Charge at the National Weather Service in Sullivan, he tells TODAY’S TMJ4’s Jesse Ritka this service will help reach more people than they could before.  “I think it’s going to be a terrific thing for the public.  We issue a warning from here, within five seconds of us deciding there’s a tornado and issue a warning; it goes to the radio and TV markets.  But it doesn’t go to a cell phone that’s hanging on someone’s hip or in their purse.  So this is a new technology and a new way for us to get the warnings out.”

But there won’t be a text alert for every storm the radar finds he explains, “They're going to be typically for very, very dangerous warnings, not just a normal severe thunderstorm warning."

The National Weather Service will only send WEA messages out for nine types of warnings: Tornado, Flash Flood, Blizzard, Ice Storm, Hurricane, Typhoon, Dust Storm, Extreme Wind and Tsunami Warnings.

And phones only receive the text message if they are in a location that is impacted by one of those nine warnings. "Because these phone are GPS aware, location aware, they can send a message out to just the individual cell phone towers," Brueske says and adds this feature will work and help when traveling.

There’s no need to sign up, anyone in danger will automatically get the text message because WEA messages are broadcast from area cell towers to the mobile phones in the area.

But Brueske stresses to not rely completely on the text message, get more information from weather radios, the internet and the media, "Look at the news media/radio stations and find out what's going on."

The service is offered for free by wireless carriers and will not count toward texting limits on wireless plans.

The National Weather Service will send out most of the WEA messages, but FEMA, the FCC, the Department of Homeland Security along with local and state public safety agencies may send out texts with other threatening emergencies in the area.  AMBER Alerts and Presidential Alerts during a national emergency are additional alerts cell phone users may receive.

If you do not want to receive WEAs, you can opt out, but you cannot opt out of getting Presidential messages.  You must contact your wireless service provider for instructions on how to opt out of Imminent Threat and Amber alerts.

Currently only certain phones are capable of receiving WEAs, but as cell phone upgrades continue, Brueske estimates that 97% of cell phone users will have access to these emergency alerts.