Mobile phone alerts will soon warn people of approaching dangerous weather and other emergencies through a new system recently announced by the government and wireless carriers.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency stated that carriers will be rolling out the Wireless Emergency Alert system throughout the country this year. Public safety authorities will be able to use it to send geographically targeted, text-like wireless emergency alerts.
This will include AMBER or child abduction alerts and imminent threat alerts. The majority of alerts will come from the National Weather Service and warn of severe weather conditions such as tornadoes.
There are also Presidential alerts, issued by the president or a designee.
These alerts will be similar to a text message, but CTIA , the international association for the wireless telecommunications industry, stated that it uses another kind of technology. That means they will be delivered immediately and congestion or delays on a wireless network common with disasters won't be a concern.
The National Weather Service announced that it would start sending out extreme weather warnings over the system this month.
A special tone and vibration, repeated twice, will let mobile users know it is an emergency alert and not just a text message.
There will be no need to download an app or subscribe. All major carriers and hundreds of smaller carriers are volunteering to participate and their customers will get the alert if their wireless devices are capable.
Wireless carriers are selling devices with emergency alert capability, though FEMA stated that not all devices being sold right now have that capability. Most commercially-available phones are expected to be emergency alert capable by 2014. It may be able to upgrade some phones so that they are capable.
Ones that have the capability will display a logo on the box stating they are capable of receiving the alerts.
Weather service spokesman Chris Vaccaro told USA Today that people should not only rely on mobile devices because they can lose power. He suggested using a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio, which lasts longer on batteries.