National Weather Service to begin issuing cell phone severe weather alerts

News, Weather

June 1st, 2012 by Ric Hanson

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have announced the agency is providing additional tools for federal, state, local officials and others, to alert and warn the public about severe weather. The Commercial Mobile Alert System, or CMAS, will be used to deliver Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) to wireless carriers for distribution to the public. That means your cell phone will receive messages on its screen, similar to a text message, showing the type and time of the alert, along with what type of action will be taken. The alerts will NOT take the place of locations where CODE RED alert systems are in-place, as those systems also handle a wide variety of local emergency situations. 

The message will be no more than 90 characters, and will have a unique tone and vibration, indicating a WEA has been received. If an alert is received by your cell phone, you are advised to follow the instructions and seek additional information from local radio, television, NOAA Weather Radio and other official sources for emergency information. 

The alerts will be broadcast by cell towers. Any cell phone within range of those specific towers will immediately pick up the signal, provided they are capable of receiving the alerts. The availability of WEA alerts will be dependent on the network status of the wireless carriers and handset availability, since not all cell phones receive WEA’s. Check with your cellular carrier to see if WEA alerts are available in your area. 

FEMA says as with all new cellular services, it will take time for upgrades in infrastructure, coverage and handset technology, to allow WEA alerts to reach all cellular customers.