A new nationwide alert system will use cell phone towers to send emergency text messages to people in specific locations.
From tornado warnings to Amber Alerts, the new Wireless Emergency Alert system can send targeted messages depending on your current location.
Short messages of 90 characters or less might warn of a National Weather Service warning in the county you’re passing through. Another message might notify you of a hazardous chemical spill in your area.
The Wireless Emergency Alerts come in three types:
- Presidential Alerts (national emergencies)
- Imminent Threat Alerts (natural or man-made disasters)
- Amber Alerts (child abductions)
"The ability for people to be made aware of hazards is going to expand exponentially," said Dave Tucek, Meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Indianapolis.
The difference between the Wireless Emergency Alerts and other warning systems is that it is tailored to your location. Cell phone towers in a specific county can be used to send out a message to any phone currently within range. That way, you’ll get an alert about something in Indianapolis, even if you’re visiting from out of town.
"With traveling, you don't know exactly what counties you're in so even if you did find their TV station, it's hard to know what to look for," said Tracie Rhim.
Rhim said she likes the idea of having a warning system on her at all times. So does Philip Ballard, who works in Indianapolis but lives in Spencer.
"I think it'd be great,” Ballard said. “That way you know what's coming."
Tucek said the National Weather Service is planning to begin sending out customized weather alerts in June, and he said people won’t need to opt-in.
"You don't need to have an app for it,” Tucek said. “It's just going to be a capability that's going to be built into all cell phones."
Though all the major cell phone providers are all taking part in the alert system, they currently have a limited number of phones that are equipped to retrieve the alerts. Tucek said that will change as new phones emerge.
Tracie said she hopes that changes soon.
"If you think about it a lot of your people who probably have the cheaper phones and the cheaper plans don't have the cable and things like that to get the alerts, so it would be nice for them to have it as well," Rhim said.
The latest information on compatible phones is available online.
Customers can opt out of weather and Amber Alerts, but they can't opt out of presidential alert.