Earlier this year, the Wireless Emergency Alerts system added COVID-19 notifications alongside dangerous weather such as hurricanes or tornadoes, missing children, and other critical information. These alerts are sent straight to your smartphone to keep you informed in case of emergencies in your vicinity. Here's everything you need to know about what alerts you can receive, how you receive them, and step-by-step instructions to turning on your alerts.
What are wireless emergency alerts?
In 2012, the WEA system was implemented to inform people through their smartphone about major events impacting their area. For example, Amber Alerts for when children go missing in the area, along with a description of the child and information about the potential abductor. Another way the system informs you is if any severe weather is about to impact your area such as hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, tsunamis, and more. Lastly, it allows Heads of States to message their citizens during national emergency situations.
Since its inception, the system has sent out more than 49,000 alerts. When they deploy, you’ll receive a notification on your phone, similar to alerts on your TV when they do testing for the emergency broadcast system. The alert appears on your smartphone’s locked screen, stating in a short paragraph the situation and any other pertinent information including whether you need to seek shelter or evacuate during inclement weather.
It’s important to have emergency alerts active on your phone, to receive this critical information that could impact your safety.
How do I turn on emergency alerts?
If you bought a new phone or haven’t toggled the security settings, here's a step-by-step guide to enable wireless emergency alerts.
- Go to Settings then select Notifications
- Next, go to the bottom of the screen where it reads Government Alerts
- You can choose which alerts you’ll want notifications for such as AMBER Alerts, Emergency and Public Safety alerts
- Toggle to the right to turn the notification on and to the left to turn it off
- Access settings
- Scroll down to find either Emergency alerts or Cell broadcast
- Similar to the iPhone, you can toggle to turn each alert on or off as you see fit
- Go to the messaging app
- Tap on settings
- Access Emergency alert settings to determine which alerts you want
Once you enable your notifications, the next time the WEA system sends an alert, it’ll emit a noise that’s sure to grab your attention. From there a message appears on your phone’s lock screen notifying you of the alert and any information or plans of action associated with it. What’s unique about this alert system is it will continue to emit an alarm on your phone until you acknowledge it. The system set this up so people would pay more attention to these alarms, so they could act quicker in emergency situations.
Why would I need these alerts?
“If the National Weather Service issues an urgent alert for your location, for example, a tornado warning—the system immediately looks to see which cell phone towers are included in the warning,” says Rorie Devine, co-founder of The Business Growth Agency. “All cell phone towers located within the warning radius send out an instant emergency alert to WEA-enabled devices.”
By doing this, the system pinpoints those affected by the storm and notifies them promptly. Along with tornado warnings, the system will also send evacuation warnings to those living in coastal areas that will be affected by an incoming hurricane. Given this hurricane season looks to be busier than usual, according to NOAA estimates, it makes this system essential for those living in areas with higher flood risks.
The bottom line
Overall, having access to these alerts keeps you informed. And in some cases, especially in weather-related emergencies, they could keep you safe as well. Emergency phone alerts can inform you of severe weather heading your direction, COVID-19 outbreaks, and more. To make sure you get these alerts, access notifications under your phone’s settings and choose the alerts you want to receive.