How Cell Phones are utilized to Alert People of during Emergencies


How Cell Phones Are UtilizedDuring Emergencies

In the wake of the tragic events in New York City and New Jersey last weekend, mobile alerts are an important means of communication utilized during times of risk and uncertainty. With millions of Americans using cell phones, sending out mobile emergency alerts is an efficient and logical way to notify the American public of any immediate danger or threat to them and/or their property.

What are Wireless Emergency Alerts?

CTIA (Cellular Telephone Industries Association), FCC (Federal Communications Commission), and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) created Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). Wireless Emergency Alerts send short, text-message like notifications to people with WEA-capable mobile devices.

What Situations Qualify for a Wireless Emergency Alert?

There are 3 different types of alerts:

1. Alerts issued by the President
2. Alerts involving imminent threats to safety or life
3. Amber Alerts

How does WEA work?

Before anyone receives a mobile alert, National, State or Local government authorities send alerts regarding public safety. FEMA authenticates the alert and then transmits the alert to participating wireless providers. The wireless providers then push the alert from their cell towers to mobile devices in the affected area. Alerts are sent only from cell towers in the coverage areas that match the zone of an emergency. For example, if an alert was sent to a zone in New York, similar to that of the latest alert for the NYC and New Jersey bombing, all WEA-capable phones in the alert zone will receive the alert.

Alerts are free and majority of devices used today are WEA capable phones. The alert message is limited to 90 characters and includes who is sending the alert, what is happening, who is affected, and what actions to take. 60 carriers participate in WEA and of which include AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, Cricket, U.S. Cellular, Cellcom, and Bluegrass Cellular.

Mass Communication for Public Safety

The bombings in NYC and New Jersey resulted in the first Wireless Emergency Alerts sent during a manhunt and possible terrorist attack. The alert was considered an imminent threat to lives in the New York and New Jersey area. As a result of the alert used in conjunction with other digital communication, the suspect was in custody hours after the WEA was sent.

As our means of communication with each other has advanced, so has our way of communicating during times of crisis. Utilizing a mature communications system made up of cell towers, advanced networks and smartphone devices, Wireless Emergency Alertsare a powerful and efficient tool to keep the public informed during an emergency. For more information on Wireless Emergency alerts, please visit the FCC page and CTIA page.


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