What Mobile Phone Users Need to Know About Wireless Emergency Alerts

Staying alert and safe from storms.

By on August 6, 2012

People have come to rely on their mobile phones for much more than just talking and texting; they use them as morning alarms and daily calendars and to check the Internet for news and information. Now, many of those same devices will alert them to severe weather threats or national emergencies via Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs).

As reported by GigaOM, WEAs became available on certain phones starting in April. Formally known as the Commercial Mobile Alerting System (CMAS), the system allows authorized government agencies, such as the National Weather Service, to initiate a process to send messages to wireless phone users in a targeted geographic area. Verizon Wireless, along with other service providers, transmits the government alerts to cell towers within the target geographic area, where they are received by WEA-capable devices that are operating in the area.

Some wireless phone users may have received weather alerts in connection with the 400 severe storms that recently swept across the country.

Here are five things to know about Wireless Emergency Alerts:

• WEAs are free messages. They do not count against users’ text plans, nor will they appear on their bills.

• WEAs are targeted to specific areas. Anyone roaming outside the target geographic area will not receive the message.  

• Only WEA-capable devices can receive the alerts. Verizon Wireless currently offers 13 such devices, which are marked with a special logo both in stores and online.

• Users with SMS or text blocks on their accounts will still receive these alerts because they are delivered differently than regular texts.

• There are three types of WEAs: Imminent Danger Alerts about weather events and threat levels, Amber Alerts related to missing children and Presidential Alerts pertaining to national authority concerns. Mobile phone users may opt out of Imminent Danger and Amber Alerts, but cannot opt out of Presidential Alerts, generally located under Settings.  

To manage preferences for specific alerts, users can go to the Emergency Alerts icon, generally found with other applications icons on the device, or to Emergency Alerts in the Messaging Menu and select and save desired preferences.