Emergency Alerts Coming To A Cell Phone Near You

By Nikki Garrett Metzger

(Victor Valley )– Over the last few days cell phones all over the High Desert have been chirping with a new kind of alert.  Maybe you received one of them.  They are the new weather alerts sent out by FEMA and the National Weather Service.  The alerts over the past few days have warned of flash flooding in San Bernardino County.

Beginning in late June 2012 the National Weather Service, FEMA, and many cell phone carriers partnered to distribute weather alert messages via cell phones.  The messages are predesigned short statements intended to warn the receiver of impending weather hazards and to encourage them to seek more information.  The messages are provided as a free service by cell phone carriers.  Cell phone customers can opt out of the service if they so choose.

In addition to weather related hazards, the WEA messages will relay local emergency (i.e. evacuation notice), AMBER alerts, and Presidential Alerts.

The WEA service is geographically based, but doesn’t use phone numbers. It uses the cell towers in the area where the warnings are issued to broadcast a message to all capable phones in that area. So, for example if you live here in the High Desert but are traveling somewhere else, like Oregon or Washington and a flash flood alert was issued for the area you are in, you would receive a message about a flash flood warning.

You will be able to opt out of weather and Amber alerts, but not Presidential alerts.

“WEA is not a replacement for other warning systems,” said Alex Tardy with the National Weather Service in San Diego. “It is part of the nation’s larger warning network and is only intended to act as a bell ringer. So people should continue to rely on traditional sources for emergency information such as TV/radio, NWR (NOAA weather radio from National Weather Service), and community warning systems.”

The system will only alert compatible phones. This means that not all phones out there are able to receive the alerts. Carriers are only required to alert down to the county level (although Sprint and ATT are working to go sub-county). Each carrier is at different stages of being able to disseminate these messages.  The iPhone will need a new OS upgrade to be capable.

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