As more people are abandoning their hard-wired phone lines for mobile technologies, the ability to effectively communicate and broadcast emergency information to the masses through traditional means is narrowing. In April 2012, a new mobile emergency communications tool was unveiled in efforts to enhance public safety by transmitting information to wireless devices in the event of an emergency. The Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) allows the public to receive wireless location-specific emergency notifications without the concern of congesting standard mobile voice and texting services. The CMAS is the system interface to the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) service that wireless carriers are bringing to their customers.
CMAS/WEA alerts can be activated by authorized government agencies (local, state or federal), or the National Weather Service. However, only CMAS/WEA-capable mobile devices can receive the notifications. According to FEMA, WEAs alerts will:
- utilize a unique ring tone and vibration to signal receipt of an alert to distinguish it from a regular text message.
- automatically “pop up” on the mobile device screen
- be limited to 90 characters.
- not preempt calls in progress.
Very few mobile devices are currently compatible with the emergency alert system. However, wireless providers are continuing to launch new models that are WEA capable. Certain devices can receive a software upgrade to receive the alerts, however, older models may need to be replaced.
The alerts are geographically based and broadcasted to wireless phones in a specific location, not to specific individuals. According to Verizon Wireless, alerts will only include information provided by authorized senders. The emergency alert information may include, but is not limited to
- Alert Category
- Event Type
Any capable device in the wireless company’s coverage area will receive the location-specific alert. Wireless customers who travel into an affected area after the WEA was originally sent will still receive the alert, if the alert has not expired. With this new system, agencies will be able to geo-code a particular area to alert individuals based on cell towers, including tourists who may be at a location for business or pleasure.
To confirm Wireless Emergency Alerts are available in your area and if your device is capable of receiving the alerts, please check with your carrier. Below is a list of carrier links that detail their involvement in the CMAS/WEA program:
For a sample Emergency Response Checklist, download our helpful and informative guide.