Liz Crenshaw's Guide to Consumer Issues, Recalls and More

Emergency Alerts Now Coming Automatically to Your Phone

By Liz Crenshaw and Patti Petitte
|  Friday, Jul 12, 2013  |  Updated 2:20 PM EDT
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New weather alerts on cell phones -- even to users who have not signed up for them -- are surprising consumers, but are meant to improve safety.

Liz Crenshaw

New weather alerts on cell phones -- even to users who have not signed up for them -- are surprising consumers, but are meant to improve safety.

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With the stormy weather overnight, wireless emergency alerts were sent to cell phones in the area -- alerts for which you did not register.

Earlier this week, News4's Liz Crenshaw explained why:

The noise is hard to ignore -- and that's the point.

Local and national emergency officials have rolled out new emergency alert systems that send loud, highly visual warnings directly to a user's cell phone. 

There's no signing up for these warnings, which are free. No app is needed to receive them. They go automatically to anyone in the affected area, though only mobile phones bought in the last year or two have the technology to receive the alerts.

"The alert is designed to be a bell-ringer," said Damon Penn of FEMA. The Federal Emergency Management Agency oversees the wireless emergency alert program.

"It is designed to tell you that there is something going on and then you need to take action."

There are three different kinds of alerts: alerts for extreme weather and other threatening emergencies, Amber alerts for a missing child and presidential alerts during a national emergency.

During Hurricane Sandy, wireless alerts were sent warning of flooding and high winds. And in May, 36 minutes before a tornado entered the city of Moore, Okla., the National Weather Service sent warnings to cell phones in the area.

The NWS sent them again 16 minutes before the tornado touched down.

Unlike cell phone calls, FEMA says, wireless emergency alerts are not affected by network congestion because they use different technology.

And though you don't sign up for them, you can opt out of two of these three alerts. Users can opt out of the alerts for weather and local emergencies and for amber alerts -- directions for opting out vary by device and provider, so contact your provider for instructions.

But users cannot log out of the national emergency alerts.

Click below to learn more about Wireless Emergency Alerts and to find out if you cell phone carrier provides them.

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