There’s a new way to get emergency alerts on your mobile device, it doesn’t cost you to receive them, and the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management doesn’t have to pay to send them. “What’s not to love” you might ask? Nothing.
The new alerts are called Wireless Emergency Alerts, they’re built into your mobile handset and developed by the Federal Government as a way to communicate with mobile phones even when calling, texting and data transmission are not possible. They are one part of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, or IPAWS.
“During Hurricane Ike many residents reported that phone calls weren’t going through,” recalls Jeff Braun, Emergency Management Coordinator for Fort Bend County, “this will ensure that we can send messages to any phone connected to a mobile phone tower within any area we specify. Even if you cannot call out, we can notify you of potential immediate threats.”
In fact this scenario is fairly common during a disaster. Mobile phone towers have a certain number of connections they can handle, and they work fine during daily use. During a disaster though, the combination of increased call volume and decreased network capacity from utility disruption creates the perfect storm that keeps phone calls and even text messages and data from being sent. Wireless Emergency Alert messages are sent to Fort Bend County residents by Local, State and Federal government agencies, although at first the messages will primarily be from the National Weather Service.
In the near future, the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management will be able to send these messages as well, although some software upgrades need to happen before the capability will be here. Braun notes, “We are looking at several solutions in place to extend this capability, ideally this can be implemented with no additional cost to Fort Bend County.”
The Wireless Emergency Alert messages don’t come through like text or email messages; instead they pop-up on your phone’s screen like a push notification from an application. If you drive into an alert area after a message has been sent, you will still receive a message on your phone, since the alerting service is constantly looking for new devices to alert.
You can opt-out of certain messages if you don’t want this service on your phone. You can choose to block AMBER alerts and Immediate Threat messages, but the Presidential alerts will always be enabled. This service is protected from abuse by requiring that alerts are only “Immediate Threats,” meaning they pose a serious and credible risk to the alert receiver.
These messages don’t cost you anything to receive on your phone since they are not text messages. The carriers pay for all costs associated with sending these alerts. So far, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon have agreed to send the messages, as have many other smaller carriers.
These messages, primarily from the National Weather Service, will begin being sent to applicable mobile phone handsets this year. If you have an older phone, you will not start receiving the alerts until you buy a WEA compatible phone or upgrade your existing handset, although it’s unknown how many handsets will be upgradable through software only.
To make sure you are able to receive these critical alerts, follow these steps:
• Ensure your phone is WEA computable by looking for the logo to the right on the packaging. If you are unsure, contact your carrier.
• Ensure that all alert types are enabled in your Alert Settings
The Fort Bend County Office of Emergency is taking steps to ensure that you are always tuned-in to the latest emergency information through not just these alerts, but digital signage, an 1670 AM Alert radio station (for travelers within Fort bend County), our own FBC Alerts, and our Twitter and Facebook sites. Be sure you and your family are prepared for all hazards we face in Fort Bend County: visit www.prepare.fbcoem.org