A new type of text alert could be coming to your cell phone beginning next month.
Beginning in June, new Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) will come from the FCC, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Weather Service. They will be issued for Presidential Alerts, Imminent Threats and AMBER Alerts.
When issued, WEAs will go out to all phones on towers in the effected area, so users with capable phones will get the warnings no matter where they are or where they are from. The alerts are free to all subscribers and will not count against texting limits on wireless plans.
Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Andy Bailey’s interest is with the “Imminent Threat” alerts, which would include severe weather warnings.
No action necessary by consumers.
He says there’s no signing up involved. “It’s an opt out, which means everybody with a capable phone will automatically be entered into this. To my knowledge you won’t be able to turn off individual warnings. It’s either all-in or all-out.”
Bailey says most phones currently in use are not WEA-capable but he believes most that are being sold, are.
“I spoke with one of the major providers in the country a few weeks ago and they said out of their 40 million handsets, 3 million are capable to receive these right now. But, they said most people upgrade every 18 months to two years and within a matter of a couple of years it’ll be much closer to 80 or 90 percent.”
Bailey suggests consumers contact the business they purchased their cell phone from first, and then the service provider, to see if it is WEA-capable. All major carriers and many second-tier carriers have agreed to offer WEA alerts.
The warnings won’t contain a lot of information. Bailey says they’re only meant to get a person’s attention.
“What this is really meant to do is not provide folks with all the information they need to deal with whatever hazard they’re facing. It’s more like a bell-ringer or an alert to let people know they need to seek more information from other sources, primarily the media.”
The types of weather warnings offered varies by area. In Missouri, the Weather Service will issue WEAs for tornado warnings, flash flood warnings, blizzard warnings and ice storm warnings. Other parts of the country might see texts for things like tsunamis and hurricanes.
Redundancy in this case is a good thing.
Because systems can fail especially in emergencies, Bailey encourages people not to opt out of the WEAs even if they have already signed up for other text alert systems.
“None of the systems are 100% reliable. They all have their weak points and when we’re dealing with systems like this, they’re all prone to failure at one point or another. So, just having another system, in this case a system that you’re already paying for through your cell phone … it’s not an additional charge … I’d really encourage people to remain signed up.”
Consumers can opt out of the Imminent Threat and AMBER Alert warnings but not the Presidential Alerts, by contacting their service providers.
For more details, visit these information pages at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website and CTIA’s website.