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On the Radar


Jonathan is an emergency management coordinator with a passion for all things weather. He currently lives in south-central Pennsylvania with his wife and son.

Automated Weather Alerts Roll Out to Cell Phones

May 16, 2012

Starting this month, a new type of text message may be delivered to your phone and it’s not one you want to ignore.

The Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) service is free and will be rolled out to more than 97% of wireless users this month.
Beginning this month, most cell phone users will begin receiving special text messages warning them of life threatening weather conditions, Amber Alerts, and Presidential Alerts for national emergencies. 
Alerts will be issued for life-threatening events such as tornadoes, hurricanes, flash floods, tsunamis, dust storms, high winds, blizzards, and ice storms.
The best thing about this service is the text messages are location based – not based on your billing address – so if you’re travelling and a weather threat is imminent, you’ll still receive the warning based on the location of your phone.
According to a report from USA Today, a National Weather Service spokesperson described the reports as “very brief, under 90 characters.”   The alerts are “intended to prompt people to immediately seek additional information through the wide range of weather alert communications available to them,” the spokesperson added, “such as the Internet, television, radio, or NOAA Weather Radio.”
The alerts will be used specifically for weather warnings, where threatening weather is occurring or imminent. Alerts will not be issued under the WEA service for watches or advisories.
WEA can also be used for urgent alerts such as Amber Alerts and Presidential Alerts for national emergencies. 
According to USA Today, Amy Storey, spokeswoman for CTIA – The Wireless Associataion, said wireless carriers participating in the program include: AT&T, Cellcom, Cricket, Sprint-NEXTEL, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Verizon Wireless.
According to the CTIA, the WEA service uses a different technology that is not subject to congestion or wireless network delays. Messages are distributed to a targeted, geographic area, which are then transmitted using cellular towers within the targeted area.
The new Wireless Emergency Alerts will be geographically based, meaning you'll receive timely warnings based on your current location.  Photo credit:  istockphoto
Under previously available commercial applications, cell phone users could subscribe to alert notifications; however, they were often subject to pre-determined locations or a billing address.
Under the WEA service, a cell phone user from Pennsylvania could receive a tornado warning for Kansas if he or she were in the targeted area.
The WEA service is the first national service by the federal government and the wireless industry. The collaboration includes the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), National Weather Service (NWS), and other agencies.
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