What to know about the tornado alert message that probably woke you up

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- For many in the Philadelphia area, we were awoken Monday morning not by the pleasant sunrise or relaxing music on the alarm clock, but by a blaring tone emanating from our cell phones.

The sound that blasted through the Delaware Valley around 3:20 a.m. came complete with a strong warning that made sure we were truly awake:

"Emergency Alert
Tornado Warning in this area til 3:45 AM EDT.
Take shelter now. Check local media - NWS."

This was a message from the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) program.

WEAs can be sent by state and local public safety officials, the National Weather Service, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the President of the United States.

The reason the WEA most likely woke you up - because it's supposed to.

"WEAs look like text messages, but are designed to get your attention and alert you with a unique sound and vibration," according to the Department of Homeland Security.

You don't get charged for receiving these alerts and there is no need to subscribe.

At least one viewer said they were so annoyed at the early wake-up call that they planned on turning off the alerts on their cell phone (which is an option).

Officials, however, do not recommend that.

"During an emergency, alert and warning officials need to provide the public with life-saving information quickly. Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) are just one of the ways public safety officials can quickly and effectively alert and warn the public about serious emergencies," Homeland Security says.

According to CTIA, since it inceptions in 2012, more than 40,000 WEAs have been sent throughout the country.

"More than 50 missing children have been recovered thanks to wireless AMBER Alerts, and the program has saved countless lives during severe weather events or other imminent threats," CTIA said.

Last October, the White House tested the alert system with a presidential alert which read: "Presidential Alert: THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed."
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The government tested a new national alert system that would let presidents send out emergency messages to phones all over the country.

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