America’s wireless industry is partnering with a system called Wireless Emergency Alerts (NWS) which will warn you when weather threatens in your geographical area. This service is in cooperation with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, the Naitonal Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration's (NOAA’s) National Weather Service and is one of the many agencies authorized to send emergency alerts to cell phones through this new system.
The text alert service is free and automatic – there’s no need to sign up or download an app. As long as your cell phone is capable of receiving text messages, you’ll get wireless alerts for the most dangerous types of weather from NOAA’s National Weather Service no matter where you are, just as soon as the new service is available in your area.
NOAA’s NWS will broadcast warnings for weather emergencies that are most dangerous to life and property: tornadoes, flash floods, hurricanes, extreme wind, blizzards and ice storms, tsunamis, and dust storms. Severe thunderstorm warnings, however, will not be part of the initial rollout of broadcast messages because they are so frequent. NOAA Weather Radio, media outlets and Internet-based services will continue as they have in the past.
This is how weather text alerts work
The beauty of the system is that it reports weather alerts wherever you and your cell phone might happen to be. If you are at home or traveling with your cell phone through an area where a weather warning has been issued, your phone will pick up alerts broadcast by nearby cell towers. Those towers will broadcast the message much like an AM/FM radio station and cell phones within range will immediately pick up the signal — provided they are enabled to receive text alerts. When your phone receives a message, it will alert you with a unique ring tone and vibration to accommodate your phone settings.
The message will look like a text, but it’s not a traditional text message most people are used to. This text message will automatically pop up on your cell phone’s screen; you won’t have to open it up to read it.
And there’s more good news: Regardless of where you are, this service will send alerts appropriate to your real-time geographic location. For example, if a person with a WEA-capable phone from New Jersey happens to be in Southern California during and after an earthquake, they will receive an “Imminent Threat Alert” on their device.
What if you don’t receive an alert or you want to opt out of the system?
The NWS networks rely on “best efforts” and delivery of the service is not guaranteed and is not intended to replace other alternate systems for emergency information. It is important to note that not all phones are capable of receiving Wireless Emergency Alerts.
Cell service customers can opt out of weather alerts, but it is strongly discouraged by the NOAA. These weather alerts are a vital public service that ultimately helps America become a more weather-ready nation. Armed with late-breaking weather warnings, people will have the timely information they need to make smart decisions about how to protect themselves, their families, their friends and neighbors, and their personal property.