Text message warning of blizzard causes confusion

Print
Email
|

by SUSAN WYATT / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on December 16, 2012 at 4:41 PM

Updated Monday, Dec 17 at 7:14 PM

Residents across much of Western Washington received a text message on their phones on Sunday afternoon and early Monday morning, warning of “Imminent Severe Weather.”

The message received by people on carriers including Verizon, TMobile and others read: “Blizzard warning this area til 6:00 PM PST Mon. Prepare. Avoid Travel. Check media. – NWS”'

The messages went out around 2 p.m. Sunday and again at 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. Monday.

When we clarified via the KING 5 Facebook page Sunday that the warning is for the Cascades and Olympics, people responded with relief that there was no real emergency.

“… violent vibrations that there was a moment of panic thinking something terrible was/is happening. Never had one of those messages before,” said one person.

“I received the text too and the alarm scared the crap out of me. I hope it doesn't happen in the middle of the night,” said another.

Well here's the explanation: In June, the wireless industry rolled out a new nationwide text emergency alert system, called Wireless Emergency Alerts, which warns when weather threatens.

There are three different kinds of alerts:

  • Presidential Alerts – Alerts issued by the President or a designee;
  • Imminent Threat Alerts – Alerts that include severe man-made or natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc., where an imminent threat to life or property exists; and
  • AMBER Alerts – Alerts that meet the U.S. Department of Justice’s criteria to help law enforcement search for and locate an abducted child.

Alerts can be sent to your mobile device when you may be in harm's way, without need to download an app or subscribe to a service. WEA messages include a special tone and vibration, both repeated twice.

The messages have a 90 character limit, so alerts will contain only basic information.  In most cases the alert will only indicate the type of event, the time the alert expires and recommended action.

The alerts are broadcast from cell towers to mobile devices in a specified geographical area, usually a county.  Every WEA-capable phone within range receives the message. So if you were in range, you got the message.

According to FEMA, wireless carriers are currently selling mobile devices with WEA capability included. While not all handsets now on the market are capable of receiving WEAs, some phones may be upgradeable and it is anticipated that most commercially available phones will be WEA-capable by the end of 2014. Until then, it is possible for one person to receive WEAs while another person in the same area may not.

Don't worry about cost - you will not be charged for the delivery of a WEA.

You can opt out of the Imminent Threat or AMBER alerts. Directions vary by device and provider. Contact your provider for help or visit http://www.ctia.org/consumer_info

KING 5's Glenn Farley contributed to this report.

Print
Email
|