Thursday, July 11, 2013


With the crazy weather we’ve experienced in the area recently, I’m sure many of you with smart phones have heard the screeching emergency alarm emanating from your phone. You can thank your government and all major cell phone companies for that. The use of Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) actually began in June of last year. Older mobile phones aren't capable of receiving the alerts.

The first time it happened to me, I was napping on the couch and thought the world was ending. Turns out there was a FLASH FLOOD warning for my area! I live in a neighborhood that is well above river level and at the highest point of my neighborhood. The only flash flood warning I need would be one that required an Ark for survival.

This technology is a great improvement over weather radios. I had one of those once. I took it out back and had it drawn and quartered it after it screeched in the middle of the night warning me of a thunderstorm on the other side of the county. WEA phone alerts are much more location specific but are not perfect either. I once received WEA alert of a tornado on my phone long after the news stations had cancelled the alert. The technology is expected to improve over time.

The warnings look just like a text message. However, it’s not really a text message. You will receive them even if you don’t have a texting plan or have texting blocked for some reason. The alerts use a different kind of technology to ensure they are delivered immediately and are not subjected to congestion or delays on wireless networks. The alerts are only broadcast from cell phone towers located in the affected area. For example, you may get an alert for a tornado located in an area you are driving through even though you are hundreds of miles from home.

The alerts cover three categories:
PRESIDENTIAL ALERTS – Alerts issued by the President on the national level that warn of terrorists or zombie attacks.
IMMINENT THREAT ALERTS – Severe man-made or natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, dangerous storms and floods.
AMBER ALERTS– Requests to help locate an abducted child in your area.

You can opt out of parts of the service such as flash flood or ordinary thunderstorm warnings but you cannot opt out of Presidential Alerts. I have an Android phone and can opt in or out of Amber alerts, Severe alerts (such as flood and thunderstorms) and Extreme Alerts (such as tornado warnings). After a couple of the goofy flood warnings, I opted out of Severe Alerts and left the others checked.

To change these settings on an Android phone, you need to open your stock text messaging program, go to settings then monkey around until you find the check boxes for emergency alerts. iPhone people can go to their main setting menu then “Notifications” then uncheck whatever you don’t want.

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