In a previous post, I mentioned that NOAA weather radios are the way to go to receive weather warnings and updates when you are inside and asleep. However, on Monday, May 14, 2012, I got word of a brand new system – launched by wireless carriers and the federal government – that will send weather warnings to your phone. It’ll be implemented later this month. You can receive updates regarding extreme weather events such as tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, tsunamis, and blizzards. The system is called Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). The alerts will be automatic and free for everybody who uses a major network.
Because the system is GPS sensitive, text alerts may vary, according to your location. If a tornado warning is issued for Dallas, Texas, for example, then mobile phone subscribers currently in that city will receive a text with a tornado warning. On the other hand, if your hometown is affected by a tornado warning, and you are elsewhere at the time, you will not receive a text.
All major wireless carriers have agreed to offer the WEA system to their subscribers. Companies that will support and implement these weather and disaster alerts include AT&T, Cellcom, Cricket, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless. These companies make up 97% of mobile phone subscribers in the United States.
You will have an option to opt out of receiving weather and AMBER alerts, but you will not be able to opt out of Presidential emergency alerts.
If a warning or some type of disaster occurs, you will be notified with a 90 character text that will briefly update you on the situation. As always, do not rely on just one warning feature to keep you up to date on the weather. If you were to receive an emergency warning text by phone, your next step ideally might be to find another source – such as a NOAA weather radio, local television, or the Internet to find out more. That’s assuming you don’t have to take shelter immediately.
Typically when tornado warnings are issued, they are drawn into a polygon that outlines a particular area of where that storm will travel. If you are in that polygon area, then you will receive a text on your phone. Basic tornado watches will not be sent via your phone, by the way.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? So what’s the catch? Is there a fee? How do you sign up?
It is a free service. No sign up is required. WEA will issue not only weather warnings, but it will also issue AMBER alerts and Presidential alerts for emergency situations. Presidential alerts sent via text will not be political, according to those who are implementing this system. Instead, they say, Presidential alerts will address the nation on an emergency situation that could threaten lives, such as a terrorist attack, should one occur.
The Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Weather Service and other agencies collaborated to create this system.
Since the system is new, it will likely be a work in progress. It will be interesting to see how it works and how people will respond to the texts that are issued.
What are your thoughts? Good idea? Bad idea?
Bottom line: A new system called the Wireless Emergency Alerts service will be implemented around the end of May 2012 that will automatically send out text alerts about weather warnings, AMBER alerts, or Presidential alerts for emergency situations. The system will be implemented automatically on all major wireless carriers. You will have the option to opt out of receiving weather and AMBER alerts, but not Presidential emergency alerts. It is important not to rely on one source for weather updates or emergency situations. People should also own and utilize a weather radio and television/Internet for emergency updates.
Matt Daniel is weekend Meteorologist for 13WMAZ (CBS) in Macon, Georgia, and founder of the blog Athens GA Weather. He's a self-described "big weather and music geek" and has produced weather content for CNN, MSN Weather and EarthSky. He has a passion for helping to keep people safe when severe weather strikes and says if you don't have a NOAA Weather Radio ... you should get one.