Wireless Emergency Alert

(Information Adapted from the FCC website)

What are Wireless Emergency Alerts?

Wireless Emergency alert graphic

WEA is a public safety system that allows customers who own certain wireless phones and other enabled mobile devices to receive geographically-targeted, text-like messages alerting them of imminent threats or public safety alerts in their area. The technology ensures that emergency alerts will not get stuck in highly congested areas, which can happen with standard mobile voice and texting services. WEA (formerly known as the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) or Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN)) was established pursuant to the Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act.

Wireless companies volunteer to participate in WEA, which is the result of a unique public/private partnership between the FCC, FEMA and the wireless industry to enhance public safety.WEA enables government officials to target emergency alerts to specific geographic areas through cell towers that broadcast the emergency alerts for reception by WEA-enabled mobile devices.

How does WEA work?

Pre-authorized national, state or local government authorities may send alerts regarding public safety emergencies, such as evacuation orders or shelter–in-place orders due to severe weather, a terrorist threat or chemical spill, to WEA.

The alerts from authenticated public safety officials are sent through FEMA's Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) to participating wireless carriers, which then push the alerts from cell towers to mobile devices in the affected area. The alerts appear like text messages on mobile devices.

Who receives the alerts?

Alerts are broadcast only from cell towers whose coverage areas best match the zone of an emergency. 

Phones that are using the cell towers in the alert zone will receive the WEA. This means that if an alert is sent to a zone in Pennington County, all WEA-capable phones in the alert zone can receive the WEA, even if they are phones that are roaming or visiting from another state. In other words, a tourist visiting from anywhere outside of Pennington County would receive alerts in Pennington County if they have a WEA-enabled mobile device and their phone is using a cell tower in the alert zone.

What's the difference between an "Imminent Threat" and a "Public Safety Alert" WEA message?

  • An "Imminent Threat" WEA message is sent when an incident poses a threat to the preservation of life or property where immediate action may be necessary.
  • A "Public Safety Alert" WEA message may be used for a situation (e.g. boil water, 911 telephone outage, etc.) that is occurring. It is not intended for life-threatening incidents where immediate action is necessary.

What should I do when I receive a WEA message?
Follow any action advised by the message. Seek more details from local media or authorities. 

Will I be charged for receiving WEA messages?
No. This service is offered for free by wireless carriers. WEA messages will not count towards texting limits on your wireless plan.

If, during an emergency, I can't make or receive calls or text messages due to network congestion, will I still be able to receive a WEA message?
Yes, WEA messages are not affected by network congestion.

How will I receive alerts if I don't have a WEA-capable device?
WEA is only one of the ways you receive emergency alerts. Other sources include NOAA Weather Radio, news broadcasts, the Emergency Alert System on radio and TV programs, outdoor sirens, internet services, and other alerting methods offered by local and state public safety agencies.

Learn More about WEA's on the FEMA website.