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Wireless Emergency Alerts debut
May 24, 2012 8:33 PM   Subscribe

Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are a new service from U.S. weather service and FEMA. Starting in June, they will send a text message with a strange tone to your mobile device if you are in range of a Tornado Warning, Tsunami Warning or other major event (in the U.S. only). Major events include "Presidential Alerts." You do not need to sign up. Washington Post Capital Weather Gang has a few more details.
posted by LobsterMitten (62 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Anonymous will have a field day with this.
posted by LordSludge at 8:39 PM on May 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


14. Will a WEA message interrupt my phone conversations?
No, the alert will be delayed until you finish your call.


I know technologies like LTE allow simultaneous voice and data. So I hope they eventually fix this, otherwise some people (like my sister) will get the alert long after the hurricane has come and gone.
posted by eye of newt at 8:41 PM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


It'll be weird getting these. When we had a bunch of tornadoes about a month ago they were using the new TV based warning, which is where they cut the TV station's audio for about 30 seconds while the warning scrolls across the screen. During the quiet period is when they also trigger the tornado sirens. It's incredibly eerie and dreadful.
posted by hellojed at 8:45 PM on May 24, 2012


Android already ninja installed a nonremovable "Presidential Alert" app on my Verizon phone about 4 months ago. Just more bloatware from your friendly government.
posted by M Edward at 8:45 PM on May 24, 2012


17. What if I don't want to receive WEA messages?

You can opt-out of receiving WEA messages for imminent threats and AMBER alerts, but not for Presidential messages.


The government is invading my life again by providing a service that might actually be useful.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 8:58 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I get too many text messages already, so I'd like to be able to set different ringtones for different kinds of emergency warnings so I could be, like, having dinner and my phone starts playing "♫ ♫ we all live in a yellow submarine ♫ ♫" and I'd be, like, oh yeah, that's a tsunami warning!

It could make these kinds of warnings a lot more fun.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:00 PM on May 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yeah, republicans are going to have a field day. Although I imagine a lot of democrats would have had a field day if this had come out during the bush administration.
posted by delmoi at 9:03 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like how the page about mobile alerts isn't formatted for mobile devices.
posted by desjardins at 9:04 PM on May 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


So is this implemented (on GSM/UMTS/LTE, anyway) using the standard cell broadcast mechanism or is it something new? I ask because, if so, any GSM phone will be capable of receiving these messages, not just new devices.
posted by wierdo at 9:04 PM on May 24, 2012


Tornado Warning ring tone.
posted by HuronBob at 9:04 PM on May 24, 2012


It seems to me that the automated weather stations operated by the National Weather Service (in partnership with other federal agencies, like the DoD...) that monitor temperature, wind speed etc. must have Geiger counters in them too, but that data isn't reported with the rest of it, instead we have to rely on private companies with much spottier information.

Services like these are nice but I'd much rather have that radiation level data. I live in an area where tornadoes and tsunamis aren't much of a concern.
posted by XMLicious at 9:08 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


What would a Presidential Message be? I can't find any examples.
posted by troika at 9:12 PM on May 24, 2012


"A drone will be bombing your location shortly."
posted by The Hamms Bear at 9:13 PM on May 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Declaration of war is pretty much the only thing I can think of. Or "Duck and Cover."
posted by mrzarquon at 9:15 PM on May 24, 2012


Or perhaps more chest beating about how he personally killed Osama with a pair of nail clippers.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:16 PM on May 24, 2012


Engadget gives a graphic showing the process of sending an alert, says 97% of mobile users will be covered, and the four major carriers are participating.

Several sources say this uses a different method than the usual SMS/text message system, and that, critically, it is not vulnerable to being brought down by congestion from too much traffic. I gather these alerts will use the "CMAS" system?

USA Today's article has a few more details.

I agree that it's interesting that nobody is giving an example of a Presidential Alert. I imagine that, since DHS is involved with this, that it might be for location-specific attack info: "your location is under attack, seal windows and stay in place" or whatever. It makes sense to build in the capability to send alerts for unforeseen types of emergencies, but it will also be a temptation for them to send non-emergency messages - "President says Nov 2 is election day, get out and vote!"
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:21 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have long thought this would be a great idea for tornadoes, since you could alert by nearest cell towers. I get sms weather alerts, but obviously it doesn't know when I'm out of my home county and tornadoes are so small, comparatively.

However, it mentions state and local governments as partners. My city government already abuses the shit out of reverse 911 calling to land lines. If they start texting my phone via WEA to remind me about garbage hoppers, I will get stabby.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:22 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


wierdo, it looks like only certain devices are supported, At&T lists only three (and none are from Apple). Sprint lists about a dozen devices [pdf]. This is revealing mostly because it turns out there's a phone called the Samsung Trender.
posted by fitnr at 9:26 PM on May 24, 2012


URGENT PRESIDENTIAL ALERT

President Obama will visit TPI Composites, a wind manufacturer in Newton, Iowa where he will urge Congress to act on the “To Do List,” specifically highlighting the need to invest in clean energy by passing legislation that will extend the Production Tax Credit (PTC) to support American jobs and manufacturing in the wind industry alongside an expansion of the 48C Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit that supports American-made clean energy manufacturing.

posted by cosmic.osmo at 9:27 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Man I really hope the presidential alerts are jokes about airplane food and snide comments about Snookie from the jersey shore. That guy has just got to come down out of his ivory tower. Those alerts are probably going the be shit like about signing some treaties and meeting boring world leaders from places nobody has heard of like England.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:28 PM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


XMLicious: "It seems to me that the automated weather stations operated by the National Weather Service (in partnership with other federal agencies, like the DoD...) that monitor temperature, wind speed etc. must have Geiger counters in them too, but that data isn't reported with the rest of it, instead we have to rely on private companies with much spottier information."

Why? That's vastly outside of NWS's mission, and a stationary geiger counter on its own isn't actually going to be terribly useful. If there's radioactive material in the atmosphere, you'll know about it, and at that point, accurate wind data and forecasts are going to be a lot more critical for saving lives.

While we're at it, here's a map of the CTBTO's network of radionucleotide monitoring stations (click on International Monitoring System). Nuclear safety and monitoring is very much an international concern, and there are plenty of folks who are worried about radiation in countries other than their own. Airborne material can travel far.

This is a really silly conspiracy theory to have.
posted by schmod at 9:29 PM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


You can opt-out of receiving WEA messages for imminent threats and AMBER alerts, but not for Presidential messages.

The Presidental Message (SAME* alert code EAN -- Emergency Action Notification) is the capability of CONELRAD, EBS and now EAS that was never used, and hopefully, never will be used.

What it would do would send the alert tones on every enabled transmitter, and activate alerts on every receiver that could decode and respond to SAME messages -- regardless of what area they were programmed to. But unlike every other alert code in EAS, they would *not* return to normal programming after the EOM (End of Message) tones were sent. If the station was a non-participating station, they would then broadcast a single message telling you to change to a station that was participating, sign off, and shut down.

Participating stations would instead switch over to the following message, usually delivered by an announcer.
We interrupt our programming. This is a national emergency.

This is an Emergency Action Notification. All broadcast stations and cable systems shall transmit this Emergency Action Notification Message. This station has interrupted its regular programming at the request of the White House to participate in the Emergency Alert System.

During this emergency, most stations will remain on the air providing news and information to the public in assigned areas. This is $CALL_SIGN. We will continue to serve the $LOCATION area. If you are not in this Local Area, you should tune to stations providing news and information for you Local Area. You are listening to the Emergency Alert System serving the $LOCATION area.

Do not use your telephone. The telephone lines should be kept open for emergency use.
This message would be repeated which would then be interrupted by first any messages from the President, then local, then state, then national but not presidential messages, then switch back to the original announcement.

Basically, what the EAN code is "The president must speak, right now, to every person in the country." What it really meant was "We are about to be hit by multiple nuclear weapons."

Even though the Cold War is very frozen now, this remains -- EAS has the ability to either take over or shut down every transmitter in the US, to make sure that a presidential message can get through. We've never used it, and hopefully, we never will

But in a burst of hopefulness, EAS has a code that EBS never did. EAT. EAT is "Emergency Action Termination" which allows stations to resume programming. It's nice to think that someone thought that useful.

What has been used, recently, was NAT -- "National Audible Test." This attempted to make every system alert with the "This is a test of the Emergency Alert System...." bit. It actually did pretty well the one time we used it. NST "National Silent Test" is more common, and anyone with a SAME receiver would have heard the RMT/RWTs (Required Monthly Test, with alert as a Watch, Required Weekly Test, alert as a Advisory/Statement)

Despite the fact that really the only message the President would send is "So this is it. We're all going to die," the capability remains, and by law, is required to remain. So, WEA may allow you to block advisories, like AMBER alerts (CAE -- Child Abduction Emergency, but sent with an Advisory/Statement flag) but you will not be able to block an EAN.



* SAME == Specific Area Message Encoding. The idea is that all alerts on EAS have a SAME code that tells the receiver what geographical area (usually, by county) that the alert is for. Receivers are programmed to only active and pass along messages that have a matching SAME header.
posted by eriko at 9:30 PM on May 24, 2012 [87 favorites]


"I'm in dusseldorf with old peeps signing shit #world affairs" should be "totes playing c-lo on air force one #ballin #1percent"
posted by Ad hominem at 9:33 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


We are about to be hit by multiple nuclear weapons

Or, aliens.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 9:37 PM on May 24, 2012


FEMA's page on WEA - including links to their criteria for what messages are urgent enough to qualify and lots of other (bureaucratic) info.

Also says "it is anticipated that most commercially available phones will be WEA-capable by the end of 2014".
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:39 PM on May 24, 2012


Verizon doesn't support iPhones on this system either.
posted by tamitang at 9:44 PM on May 24, 2012


Yeah, that national broadcast test back in November was... a very good argument for doing more tests. Lots of flaws all throughout the chain from the local stations on up.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:46 PM on May 24, 2012


So, the US is considerably behind a lot of the rest of the world on this one. One of the weirdest and most shocking things I experienced when I visited Bangladesh were public information texts sent to my local cell.

They occurred fairly frequently-- maybe every three days or so. Most of them were in Bangla only, though some were in English too. One afternoon I got one in Bangla and asked a colleague what it meant. He looked almost embarrassed and struggled to express what it was, hesitantly telling me that it was an announcement of a government sponsored rally in Dhaka. I asked him what it was about, and he hemmed and hawed a bit, but eventually explained that it was a rally in support of rights for transgendered people.

A government-called rally to raise awareness and support for transgendered people, delivered via a high tech national messaging system, in BANGLADESH, one of the the least developed countries in the world and a fairly conservative Muslim one to boot. That made me feel very sad for America.
posted by charmcityblues at 9:48 PM on May 24, 2012 [27 favorites]


Great as long as they don't spam us with test alerts. I would like to opt out of the AMBER alerts though.
posted by jeblis at 9:56 PM on May 24, 2012


Swell, this is announced 3 days after I buy a $10 iPhone app (Weather Alert USA) to do the same thing.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:56 PM on May 24, 2012


no sweat IndigoRain! according to upthread scuttlebutt we well-off iPhonerators are free to keep using the free market in such matters.
posted by mwhybark at 10:11 PM on May 24, 2012


Why? That's vastly outside of NWS's mission...

If you had followed the Wikipedia link, you would note that the ASOS network is not operated just by the NWS, but also by the FAA and DoD.

I guess I'm just silly but it seems pretty likely to me that if all of these different agencies of the federal government were going to construct a nationwide (or global? I'm not clear on that bit, METAR data sources show up all over) network of automated environmental monitoring systems to support the needs of all of them together, something to monitor radiation levels would probably be included. If you spider down through some of the links, among the purposes of the ASOS network is to aid in environmental protection, which monitoring radiation levels would seem to fit with too.

It doesn't seem like the kind of thing that would require a conspiracy; I don't know why it seems that way to you. Just off the top page of search results, here's a slide set from a 2002 presentation by a Washington University researcher analyzing some data from the ASOS system in which he remarks that he wishes he could get access to the data from the DoD stations.
posted by XMLicious at 10:22 PM on May 24, 2012


This is only tangentially related but I found this simulated BBC nuclear attack warning captivating and creepy as all hell.
posted by floam at 10:31 PM on May 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


No I'm actually looking forward to the first broadcast message from Anonymous. I wonder what it'll be?

a. "We are legion."
b. None of the above.

Never was good at multiple choice.
posted by LordSludge at 11:01 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


For most of the country, custody disputes are going to be a lot more common than tornadoes.
posted by nixt at 11:13 PM on May 24, 2012


I don't think they have thought this through. With text messages costing 10 cents a message to send out just a few national emergencies will clearly bankrupt the cell phone companies if they do this for free as a public service.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:31 PM on May 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


I was a country radio DJ for four years in high school/college ('89-93-ish), and one night I got bored and pulled down the big Emergency Broadcast System "procedures" binder off the shelf and read through it.

I didn't sleep well that evening.
posted by mrbill at 11:45 PM on May 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm curious about the Lake Effect Snow Warning listed in the chart in the Washington Post link. I didn't know lake effect snow was dangerous. Admittedly, I grew up on the wrong part of the lake for us to ever get any, but still, it was never treated as an emergency on the news.
posted by hoyland at 2:36 AM on May 25, 2012


That guy has just got to come down out of his ivory tower. Those alerts are probably going the be shit like about signing some treaties and meeting boring world leaders from places nobody has heard of like England.

Wow - You suppose to know what type of messages will be considered 'Presidenial' and, based on that, say that our President needs to 'come down out of his his ivory tower'.

Really? Do you get out much?
posted by Ochiee at 2:48 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't wait for August-September, when every trip to Publix will be a symphony of cell phone emergency ringtones in every aisle. Knowing the locals, we'll probably have sing-alongs.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 3:23 AM on May 25, 2012


"My fellow Americans this morning at 6:25 A.M. Pacific Standard Time combined elements of the Imperial Japanese Navy and Air Forces ruthlessly attacked our naval base at Pearl Harbor, in the Hawaiian Islands. I have conferred this morning with the Congress and the Chiefs of Staff and Emergency Session -- we have reached our rendezvous with destiny. it is our unanimous and Irrevocable decision that the United States of America, unconditionally surrender. And now my wife And I would like to return with you for the thrilling conclusion of Private Nick Danger, Third Eye."
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:30 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ochiee, is joke.
posted by barnacles at 3:32 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Participating stations would instead switch over to the following message, usually delivered by an announcer.

We interrupt our programming. This is a national emergency.


Doesn't FOX already do this every day since Obama was elected?
posted by dhartung at 3:37 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


no sweat IndigoRain! according to upthread scuttlebutt we well-off iPhonerators are free to keep using the free market in such matters.

It's wealth redistribution via natural catastrophe, you see. The tornado picks up your possessions and redistributes them all over the county.
posted by tylermoody at 4:04 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Android already ninja installed a nonremovable "Presidential Alert" app on my Verizon phone about 4 months ago.

Small quibble,"Android" didn't install anything. Verizon installed it on your Android phone.
posted by inigo2 at 4:32 AM on May 25, 2012


So...how do we opt-in to Vice Presidential Alerts?
posted by troika at 5:08 AM on May 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


"Good evening my fellow Americans. I am speaking to you tonight from the new remote Oval Office, located on the planet Mars. In a few hours, an asteroid will impact the Earth..."
posted by Thorzdad at 5:26 AM on May 25, 2012


That made me feel very sad for America.

Of course, if you were actually getting texts to your phone for every random government event, you would be really annoyed at the system. Grass is always greener.
posted by smackfu at 5:54 AM on May 25, 2012


So...how do we opt-in to Vice Presidential Alerts?

Margs at Applebees? I'll be there after 9. Don't tell Barry! - VPOTUS
posted by Think_Long at 6:58 AM on May 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


So, if I'm visiting the US and one of these messages is in play, will I receive it too?
posted by seawallrunner at 7:41 AM on May 25, 2012


SMS really isn't used enough as a form of public address. Some simple signs with Subscribe and Unsubscribe QR codes could be placed throughout an area allowing you to tap into a stream of information about the place.

Like, for example, SXSW. Maybe you subscribe to different SMS "feeds", some general, some based on genre or whatever, and you get updates on all the cool things that might interest you that are going down that aren't in the official schedule. You know, "Bill Murray is tending bar at Shangri-La right now!" type stuff, basically Twitter feed fodder but via SMS. And at the same time, the organizers get a platform for public service messages, for everyone's safety.

Or take a thriving downtown area, with all sorts of arts and attractions. Opt in to different SMS feeds based on interests - and the sky's the limit, really, because between different shortcode #s and different message body texts it's easy for an SMS gateway server to sort people into the appropriate contact lists. This would be excellent for tourists and locals alike. Tourists get the fun spontaneity of "Oh, attraction X is happening in a few hours, that sounds fun!" and locals can get a fun little sense of a thriving community enticing them to get up and hit the town instead of staying in tonight. I could see fridge magnets with different QR codes (with "Text FOO to ###" captions for non-smartphone users) being pretty popular in hotels and on the fridges of locals. Like, if I lived in a town that did that, I'd have QR magnets on my fridge for local music, new movie releases in theaters, etc. And of course a QR code for unsubscribing, because that's probably the most important thing: you can turn that chatter OFF when you're not in the mood.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:56 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


The BBC video linked above has a sample US one as a related video too.
posted by msbutah at 10:43 AM on May 25, 2012


Reminds me of the alert Verizon mistakenly sent out to customers in NJ last December.
posted by daninnj at 10:44 AM on May 25, 2012


Despite the fact that really the only message the President would send is "So this is it. We're all going to die," the capability remains, and by law, is required to remain.

Surely there could be scenarios in which many people would survive, and in which this message capability would be useful to those survivors?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:45 AM on May 25, 2012


KSZ001-NEZ079-260200-
/O.EXA.KGLD.CE.A.0005.120525T1703Z-120525T1721Z/
WASHINGTONDC-
INCLUDING THE ENTIRE US
208 PM EDT FRI MAY 25 2012 / 108 PM CDT FRI MAY 25 2012/

...NUCLEAR ATTACK WARNING...

THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY IN WASHINGTON DC HAS
ISSUED A CIVIL EMERGENCY WARNING FOR IMMINENT NUCLEAR
ATTACK

* TIMING/DURATION...AS OF 14:03 EDT, NORAD HAS DETECTED
MULTIPLE BALLISTIC MISSLE LAUNCHES AIMED AT NUMEROUS
TARGETS IN THE UNITED STATES

* OTHER IMPACTS...MASSIVE CASUALTIES AND PROPERTY DAMAGE
ARE EXPECTED

* PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...
BEND OVER AND KISS YOUR ASS GOODBYE

posted by double block and bleed at 11:16 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


nixt: "For most of the country, custody disputes are going to be a lot more common than tornadoes."

I thought the same thing, as I recently confessed. It turns out that often the non-custodial parent is non-custodial for very good reasons, and it's changed my mind about how cynically I regard Amber Alerts.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:37 PM on May 25, 2012


** WEA ALERT **

Don't forget the mustard this time!

- O


** WEA ALERT **

Sorry, America. I didn't mean to "reply all."

- O
posted by chairface at 8:16 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


wierdo: So is this implemented (on GSM/UMTS/LTE, anyway) using the standard cell broadcast mechanism or is it something new?

Looks like it. According to a FEMA page, WEAs use Cell Broadcast, confirmed by a Galain Solutions whitepaper (Google quickview).
posted by Pronoiac at 10:24 PM on May 25, 2012


Ochiee, is joke.

Thanks barnacles. Looks like I'm the one who doesn't get out enough (away from relatives who would say that without tongue-in-cheek).
posted by Ochiee at 12:33 AM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have long thought this would be a great idea for tornadoes, since you could alert by nearest cell towers. I get sms weather alerts, but obviously it doesn't know when I'm out of my home county and tornadoes are so small, comparatively.

However, it mentions state and local governments as partners. My city government already abuses the shit out of reverse 911 calling to land lines. If they start texting my phone via WEA to remind me about garbage hoppers, I will get stabby.


I would hope so. Since they have the ability to break it down geographically, I hope that they will use it. It is kind of annoying to have constant reminders of potentially bad weather in areas I am 50 miles away from. And, hopefully, I WILL be alerted of impending doom when I am in areas that broadcasters don't find fashionable enough to warn about.
posted by gjc at 8:08 AM on May 26, 2012


But what if the black helicopters start reading my personal texts, like, "should I bring home dinner"!
posted by Brocktoon at 10:45 PM on May 26, 2012


What would a Presidential Message be? I can't find any examples.

(While in the voting booth) ... "Are you sure that's your final answer? Wouldn't you like to give it more thought?"
posted by krinklyfig at 2:15 AM on May 28, 2012


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