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Wireless Emergency Alerts .

Wireless Emergency Alerts

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The Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) program is voluntarily supported by wireless operators to help make Americans safer. Alerts and warnings from local public safety officials are delivered directly to your WEA-capable mobile device when there is a dangerous situation in your area.

WEA messages have a unique sound and vibration so that all recipients, including those with disabilities, receive notification of the situation. Your phone must be WEA-capable—check with your provider to learn more—and turned on to receive an alert. All national wireless providers and dozens of regional providers that serve over 99% of wireless subscribers participate in the WEA program.

There are three different kinds of Wireless Emergency Alerts:

  1. Presidential Alerts – Issued by the U.S. President or a designee as a nationwide alert only to be used during a national emergency event.
  2. Imminent Threat Alerts – Issued by public safety officials during severe man-made or natural disasters where an imminent threat to life or property exists, such as tornadoes or dangerous flooding. They sometimes include “shelter in place” warnings.
  3. AMBER or BLUE Alerts – Issued by law enforcement as part of the search for an abducted child or law enforcement officer whose life is in danger.

In 90 characters or less, WEAs state who is sending the alert, what is happening, who is affected, and what action to take. While WEAs can provide critical information to wireless subscribers, you can opt out of WEA Imminent Threat and AMBER Alerts.

WEAs are not regular text messages. WEAs use a different kind of technology to ensure they are delivered as soon as possible. In addition, WEAs are only sent to capable wireless devices within the vicinity of the alert area. For example, if a Washington, D.C. resident has a WEA-capable device and happens to be in San Diego during a natural disaster, their device would receive Imminent Threat Alerts sent to an alert area in San Diego.

Since WEA messages are broadcasted from a cell site, your device cannot send any information about you, your device or the WEA message back to your carrier or to the government. The WEA program cannot be used to track your location or gather your personal data.

The WEA program is jointly implemented and administered by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). To send a WEA, government agencies take the following steps:

  1. Federal, state, local and tribal public safety agencies must apply to FEMA to become alert-originating authorities.
  2. In an emergency, alert-originating authorities send their alert message and designated alerting area to FEMA.
  3. FEMA authenticates the sending agency and then transmits the WEA to the more than 100 participating wireless providers who may have customers in a given designated alerting area. Only the customers in that target area receive the alert.

Since its inception in 2012, more than 40,000 WEAs have been sent throughout the country. More than 50 missing children have been recovered thanks to AMBER Alerts, and the program has saved countless lives during severe weather events or other imminent threats. Here are a few examples from Connecticut, New York, Utah, Texas and Wisconsin.

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