Wireless emergency alerts designed to keep you safe

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – With all the torrential rain that fell in Fort Wayne and areas to the south and west, Flash Flood Warnings were issued early Friday morning. Because flash floods can be life-threatening, many people were woken by a unique sound on their mobile devices.

Photo Gallery | August Flooding

They’re called Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and are designed to keep you informed and safe. These nationwide alerts are sent out for extreme weather warnings, local emergencies (like evacuations), AMBER alerts, or even Presidential Alerts (during a national emergency).

The alerts consist of a loud, unique tone, and then 90 characters or less of text, detailing the time and type of the alert and what action, if any, needs to be taken. The National Weather Service has partnered with the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to get alerts rebroadcast by mobile carriers. All government partners have agreed to only send out weather alerts for very dangerous situations like tornadoes, flooding, and blizzards.

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service say sending out these alerts takes no extra steps and occurs as soon as a warning is issued. According to Mark Frazier, Meteorologist In-Charge at the Northern Indiana National Weather Service office:

When the weather service issues a warning – let’s say, for example, a Flash Flood Warning – there is a polygon area within a county. The cell towers that reside within that area of the polygon anyone who is in reach of those cell towers…would receive the warning. But, that can depend on which carrier and what model of phone from that carrier.

So, even if you’re away from home or on vacation at the lake, as long as your cell phone is on and you have signal, you can get alerts for wherever you are, regardless of where the phone is registered. If you travel into a threat area after a WEA message has already been sent, you will get the alert as soon as you enter the particular area.

To double check and see if your phone is set up to receive the alerts on an iPhone 5: go into settings, notification center, and scroll all the way down to the bottom to make sure the alerts are switched to the on position. Of course, this will vary by device manufacturers and carriers. You also have the power to turn these off, but meteorologists at the National Weather Service don’t recommend doing this. According to Frazier:

I think this is a feature that very good for people to have. There’s no cost to the consumer – as far as a text message – it’s free. I think as a public safety issue, this is something I think is good. Hopefully it can be expanded to more models of phones amongst the different carriers and make this really available to everybody.

To check and see if your mobile carrier and phone are set up for alerts:

Don’t forget, you can also receive breaking news and severe weather alerts from WANE as soon as they are issued. This is a free service, however, message & data rates from your mobile provider may apply.

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