Wireless emergency alert system launched by Federal Emergency Management Agency, weather service

Jul 12, 2012

The following article was published in the Palm Beach Post on July 12, 2012:

Wireless emergency alert system launched by FEMA, weather service

By Post Staff


In late June, the National Weather Service joined with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to launch a system that will send text messages to people in areas threatened by severe weather such as hurricanes.

These Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) messages will be broadcast to area cell phone towers, which will then relay them to all mobile phones within reach of their signals. The system was activated on June 28.

A weather service spokeswoman told Information Week that though the “pipes” are open, its up to the wireless carriers to implement it. “It’s happening on a rolling basis across the country,” Susan Buchanan said.

 Wireless carriers participate in the alert program voluntarily. Among national carriers, Sprint and Verizon are fully ready, Information Week said, but there are hundreds of smaller carriers that have not yet enabled the broadcasts, even though they might have agreed to. Click here for a list of participating carriers.

Not all cell phones, particularly older models, can get the alerts, Buchanan said. FEMA added that some models might be upgradable, and that all phones on the market by the end of 2014 should have the capability. Click here for a list of models that can receive the alerts.

The severe weather text alerts will go out “in a matter of seconds,” according to Mike Gerber, a programmer with the weather service. The system does not use GPS but something Gerber called “point to multi-point.” According to the Information Week article, the alerts are sent to cell towers, not to cell phones, so if you live in Virginia but happen to be in Florida when a hurricane hits, you will be notified of an impending storm. Another advantage is that this system is not subject to congestion, Gerber said.

The messages are limited to 90 characters, so they will include only urgent information. The alerts will be limited to warnings and will not include severe weather watches. The types of severe weather to be included are blizzards and ice storms, dust storms, extreme winds, flash floods, hurricanes and typhoons, tornadoes, and tsunamis.

“They only are intended to be a bell ringer,” Gerber told Information Week. “They’re not intended to replace other sources of information. They’re simply, ‘Here’s the action you need to take, and get additional information from other sources,’ ” such as a radio.

View the original article here:  http://blogs.palmbeachpost.com/eyeonthestorm/2012/07/11/wireless-emergency-alert-system-launched-by-fema-weather-service/