5 Things You Should Know About the Wireless Emergency Alert System

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Understanding the Wireless Emergency Alert System

  • Alerts Permitted via WEA
  • Functions of WEA
  • WEA Broadcast Areas
  • Rollout of WEA
  • Consumer Responsibility

The wireless emergency alert system is developing into an essential element of overall emergency preparedness in the United States. The WEA is rolling out in phases, addressing different types of emergency warning situations in that process. The initial launch of the system occurred in 2012. Since that time, more than 40,000 warnings have issued through the expanding system. WEA warnings transmit through mobile devices.

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1. Alerts Permitted via WEA

Only certain types of alerts are permitted, or will be allowed in the future, via the WEA system. These include AMBER Alerts, warnings from the National Weather Service, and alerts pertaining to imminent threats to the life. Warnings associated with threats to life fall into different categories. These classifications are extreme threats and severe threats.

An addition to the WEA system will be alerts issued directly the President of the United States. Presidential alerts were scheduled to commence in the latter part of the summer of 2018 but were delayed.

2. Functions of WEA

Federal, state, and local governmental authorities are permitted to send alerts via WEA, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Types of alerts that have been transmitted via WEA include those associated with different public safety and emergency issues. These include everything from evacuation orders to shelter-in-place directives. Other types of emergency transmissions on the system include severe weather warnings, terrorist threats, and chemical spills.

When an alert is initiated by a governmental agency, it technically is sent through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Integrated Public Alert and Warning System. Alerts are conveyed to participating wireless carriers. Alerts are pushed to mobile devices in the designated impact zone.

3. WEA Broadcast Areas

WEA alerts are broadcast to the approximate zone of the emergency. In order to better facilitate this reality, wireless providers must improve their geo-targeting functionalist by November 30, 2019. All mobile devices physically located in a targeted zone should receive the alert broadcast. This is the case even if a device is in a zone from another locale or is roaming.

4. Rollout of WEA

WEA initially was established in 2008. WEA is the creation of the Warning, Alert and Response Network Act. WEA initially became operational in 2012. Thus far, wireless providers volunteer to participate in the WEA emergency broadcast system. The major wireless providers have opted voluntarily into the program since its creation. Ultimately, mandatory participation by most wireless providers of all sizes is likely to become a reality.

5. Consumer Responsibility

Consumers do not need to sign-up for WEA alerts. Provided their wireless provider participates, and their mobile device has the capability to receive these alerts, they are received automatically. Consumers pay nothing for inclusion in the WEA alert system.

A consumer may need to upgrade the software on a device in order to receive WEA alert transmissions. Typically this involves uploading a software update from a device manufacturer. A wireless provider can provide information on the necessity of an upgrade.

With each passing year, an ever-increasing segment of the U.S. population relies on their mobile devices as their primary means of communication. Ultimately, the wireless alert system is expected to be a truly ubiquitous warning and advisement resource, covering all geographic locations and all types of emergency situations.