Amber Alert notification hits mobile phones

A screenshot of an iPhone after receiving an Amber Alert through the Wireless Emergency Alerts system.

January 15, 2013 3:25:37 AM PST
Those living in the 6abc viewing area received notice of an Amber Alert through and the government's own alert system.

READ: Missing girl abducted from school has been found

Android and iPhone users on a number of wireless carriers received a notification just after 9:00 p.m. saying "An AMBER Alert has been issued in your area, please check local media."

The message was accompanied by the Emergency Alert System sound.

Unlike 6abc alerts, where you would need to sign up through or download the 6abc app, these Government Alerts are automatically sent to your eligible mobile device.

This came to be because of an agreement between the CTIA-The Wireless Association, the wireless industry, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

If you have a WEA-enabled phone, you are automatically enrolled.

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
  • AMBER Alerts - Alerts that meet the U.S. Department of Justice's criteria to help law enforcement search for and locate an abducted child.

    More information can be found on CTIA's webage, but here are some facts on Wireless Emergency Alerts:

    Who sends Wireless Emergency Alerts?

    The alerts are initiated by authorized federal, state, local and tribal public safety agencies and aggregated by FEMA. Next, FEMA transmits the messages to the participating wireless carriers. Finally, the wireless carriers broadcast the message to subscribers with WEA-capable phones in the specified geographic zone.

    Here is a list of participating carriers:

    Bluegrass Cellular
    Sprint Nextel Corporation
    T-Mobile USA
    U.S. Cellular
    Verizon Wireless

    Is a Wireless Emergency Alert the same as a SMS text message?

    No, the Wireless Emergency Alert appears similar to a text message, but uses a different kind of technology to ensure they are delivered immediately and are not subjected to potential congestion (or delays) on wireless networks.

    Can I turn off Wireless Emergency Alerts?

    Consumers may opt out of Imminent Threat and AMBER alerts. Per the WARN Act of 1996, Congress said that no consumer could opt out of Presidential Alerts.

    Will I be charged for Wireless Emergency Alerts?

    No, the alerts are free of cost for all subscribers.

    Additional links:

    FCC Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN) for Consumers

    FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau CMAS Commercial Mobile Telephone Alerts

    FEMA: Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS)

    (All information from CTIA)