A new emergency alert system is set to go into effect in April geared towards mobile devices. Called the ‘Wireless Emergency Alerts’, the system was developed by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and most major wireless carriers to bring free emergency text alerts to mobile devices. The system is initiated by local, state or national officials who in-turn alerts a Federal aggregator (central hub) which translates the alert message into a specified software format that is able to be used by mobile carriers.
The translated alert is then sent to cell towers (if they haven’t been destroyed) in that particular area of disaster. CMAS-enabled (Commercial Mobile Alert System) mobile devices will then receive a special ring-tone and vibration in the geo-targeted area notifying the user of the emergency. As of now the WEA system will use three kinds of alert messages; Presidential: for national emergencies issues by the president or designee (terrorist, financial melt-downs and alien invasions?). Imminent Threat Alerts: NOAA severe weather alerts and other man-made or natural disasters. And finally Amber Alerts: for missing or exploited children. All messages are limited to 90 characters.
Unlike traditional text messages that aren’t point-aware, the WEA system is a point-to-multipoint generator meaning only those affected in that area (regardless of phone origin or area code) will receive that message. So, if you’re from Chicago but visiting Denver when an emergency occurs, you will be notified if you’re in the path of eminent doom. However, people will be able to opt-out of the imminent threat and amber alerts. Presidential alerts are mandatory.
According to the CTIA (International Wireless Association) the bulk of alerts will be weather related with advisements for tornados, earthquakes and floods and will give the user important information (such as seeking shelter) based on the specific alert. The system sounds like it will be very useful, but what happens if you’re riding out an earthquake while in the middle of a violent storm that produces a tornado?
Most mobile carriers will display the image below if the device is capable with the alert system.