Beginning Wednesday, state and local emergency officials and the National Weather Service will have another tool for alerting the public to dangerous conditions - called Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA).
These emergency alerts will be sent to newer cell phones in affected areas. Alerts will continue to be issued or available on other sources including radio/TV stations, on NOAA Weather Radios and local sirens.
Because this system is new, people have many questions about how it works. Here, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, are some commonly asked questions and answers.
1. What are WEA messages? Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are emergency messages sent by authorized government alerting authorities through your mobile carrier. Government partners include local and state public safety agencies, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Weather Service.
2. Does WEA replace other warning systems? No. WEA is not a replacement for other warning systems. 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, and community warning systems.
3. Why is this important to me? Alerts received at the right time can help keep you and your family safe during an emergency. With WEA, alerts can be sent to your mobile device when you may be in harm's way.
4. How do I know if my phone will receive WEA messages? The NWS is expected to send selected weather-related warnings to WEA-capable devices starting today. But many mobile devices, especially older ones, are not WEA-capable. When you buy a new mobile device, it probably will be able to receive WEA messages. For information about which mobile devices are WEA-capable, please visit www.ctia.org/wea or contact your wireless carrier.
5. Do I have to sign up for WEA service? No, consumers will not have to sign up for WEA messages. They will be automatically broadcast to all cell phones with WEA capability in the warning area.
6. Do I have to download an app? No, you do not need to download an app or subscribe to a service.
7. Will I be charged for receiving WEA messages? No. This service is offered for free by wireless carriers. WEA messages will not count towards texting limits on your wireless plan.
8. What types of alerts might I receive?
- Extreme/life threatening weather warnings.
- Local emergencies requiring evacuation or immediate action.
- AMBER Alerts.
- Presidential Alerts during a national emergency.
Of the four types of alerts, extreme weather warnings from the National Weather Service, by nature, will be the most frequent.
9. Does WEA know where I am? Is it tracking me? No. WEA messages go to all the cell phone towers in the affected area. If your phone is receiving a signal from one of those towers you will get the message.
10. Will I receive a WEA message if I'm visiting an area where I don't live, or outside the area where my phone is registered? Yes, if you have a WEA-capable phone and your wireless carrier participates in the program.
11. What if I travel into a threat area after a WEA message is already sent? If you travel into a threat area after an alert is first sent, your WEA-capable device will receive the message when you enter the area.
12. What does a WEA message look like? WEA will look like a text message. The WEA message will show the type and time of the alert, any action you should take, and the agency issuing the alert. The message will be no more than 90 characters and is intended to be just a notification. Here are some examples: "Tornado Warning in this area until 2:15 PM. Take shelter now. NWS"; "Flash Flood Warning this area until 3:30 PM. Avoid flood areas. Check local media. NWS."
13. How will I know the difference between WEA and a regular text message? WEA messages include a special tone and vibration, both repeated twice.
14. What types of WEA messages will the National Weather Service send?
- Tornado and Flash Flood Warnings.
- Blizzard and Ice Storm Warnings.
Until further notice, Severe Thunderstorm Warnings are not sent as a WEA message.
15. What should I do when I receive a WEA message? Follow any action advised by the emergency message. Seek more details from local media or authorities.
16. Will a WEA message interrupt my phone conversations? No, the alert will be delayed until you finish your voice or data session.
17. What if I don't want to receive WEA messages? You can opt-out of receiving WEA messages for imminent threats and AMBER alerts, but not for Presidential messages. To opt out, please refer to instructions from your wireless carrier or visit www.ctia.org/wea for more information.
18. Are WEAs the same as text messages? No. WEA are not the same as text messages. WEA will not have to be opened like SMS text messages, but will "pop up" on the device's screen.