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Frequently Asked Questions: Wireless Emergency Alerts

This section contains answers to a list of frequently asked questions about Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs).

Wireless Emergency Alert Capable Logo

1. Why are Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) important to me?
Alerts received at the right time can help keep you safe during an emergency. With WEA, warnings can be sent to your mobile device when you may be in harm's way, without the need to download an app or subscribe to a service.

2. What are WEA messages?
WEAs are emergency messages sent by authorized government alerting authorities through your wireless provider.

3. What classes of alerts will I receive?

  • Imminent Threat Alerts that include extreme weather, and other threatening emergencies in your area;
  • Public Safety Alerts that are less severe in nature than Imminent Threat Alerts;
  • AMBER Alerts;
  • Presidential Alerts during a national emergency; and
  • Ad Council,, and FEMA sponsored picture of the wireless emergency alert on iOSTest Messages that are opt-in messages to support state and local WEA testing.

4. What does a WEA message look like?
WEA will look like a text message. The WEA message will show the type and time of the alert, any action you should take, and the agency issuing the alert. The message will be no more than 360 characters. Wireless Emergency Alert web banner (Spanish) - 70 KB

5. How will I know the difference between WEA and a regular text message?
WEA messages include a special tone and vibration, both repeated twice.

6. What types of WEA messages will the National Weather Service (NWS) send?

  • Hurricane and Tsunami Warnings;
  • Tornado and Flash Flood Warnings; and
  • Typhoon, Dust Storm, Extreme Wind, Storm Surge, and Snow Squall Warnings.

7. What are AMBER Alerts?
AMBER Alerts are urgent bulletins issued in the most serious child-abduction cases. The America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) Alert Program is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies and the wireless industry.

8. Who will send WEAs to issue AMBER Alerts?
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in coordination with public safety officials, sends out AMBER Wireless Emergency Alerts through IPAWS.

9. 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.

10. Will I receive a WEA message if I'm visiting an area where I don't live, or outside the area where my phone is registered?
Yes, if you have a WEA-capable phone and your wireless provider participates in the program. (More than 100 carriers, including all of the largest carriers, do.)

11. What if I travel into a threat area after a WEA message is already sent?
If you travel into a threat area after an alert is first sent, your WEA-capable device will receive the message when you enter the area if the alert is still active.

12. When will I start receiving WEA messages?
It depends. WEA capabilities were available beginning in April 2012, but some mobile devices, especially older ones, are not WEA-capable. When you buy a new mobile device, it probably will be able to receive WEA messages.

13. Is this the same service public safety agencies have asked the public to register for?

No, but they are complementary. Local agencies may have asked you to sign up to receive telephone calls, text messages or emails. Those messages often include specific details about a critical event. WEAs are very short messages designed to get your attention in a critical situation. They may not give all the details you receive from other notification services.

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

15. Does WEA know where I am? Is it tracking me?
No. Just like emergency weather alerts you see on local TV, WEAs are broadcast from area cell towers to mobile devices in the area. Every WEA-capable phone within range receives the message, just like a TV that shows an emergency weather alert. WEA, like the TV station, doesn't know exactly who is tuned in.

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

17. How often will I receive WEA messages?
You may get very few WEA messages, or you may receive frequent messages during an emerge ncy. The number of messages depends on the number of imminent threats to life or property in your area, as seen by the Alerting Authority who sends the message(s).

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

19. What if I don't want to receive WEA messages?
You can opt-out of receiving WEA messages for imminent threats, public safety messages and AMBER alerts, but not for Presidential messages. To opt out, adjust settings on your mobile device.

20. 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.

21. Why didn't I receive a WEA when someone near me did?
There will be cases where you will not receive a WEA. There are many reasons this may happen. Here are a few:

• You do not have adequate cell reception.
• Your mobile phone is turned off or set to airplane mode.
• Your mobile phone is not connected to a cell site broadcasting the alert; instead it could be synced to a cell site nearby that is not broadcasting the alert.
• Your mobile phone is connected to a cell site that is currently undergoing maintenance or is out of service.
• You have opted out of receiving alerts on your mobile phone. The location of the alerts opt in/out menu depends on the phone make and model, but typically is in the notification settings menu.
• Some mobile phones will not present an alert if the phone is being used for a call or in an active data session; this varies by make and model.
• If your mobile phone continues to receive the same WEA over and over it is most likely an issue with the device; mobile phones should ignore subsequent re-broadcasts of a WEA but sometimes a device gets stuck in a loop repeatedly alerting for the same WEA; powering off the device and turning it back on may help.

Last Updated: 
04/30/2020 - 15:30