Wireless Emergency Alerts Help Bridge Gap with Millennials


Posted Thu, Sep 25, 2014

A wireless emergency alert is issued concerning a Flood Warning.

A wireless emergency alert is issued concerning a Flood Warning.

DENVER – It happens when you’re asleep. It happens during business meetings. It happens during family game night. It knows where you are.

The shrill tone comes across your phone with a constant vibration, jostling you to comprehend what this nuisance is. On your screen, it says “Emergency Alert!”

It’s loud, it’s annoying, but it works. More than working, it saves lives.

This isn’t your phone having a meltdown, or an app that you forgot you downloaded. It’s actually a Wireless Emergency Alert, or WEA for short. Just like the Emergency Alert System cuts across TV and radio to alert you about severe weather or civil emergencies, WEA does the same thing, just to your phone.

Alerts are issued for extreme weather situations, AMBER Alerts, local emergencies and Presidential Alerts during a national emergency. These messages are less than 90 characters in length, and typically refer you to local media for more details on the situation.

This feature began hitting smartphones in April of 2012, but many older phones were excluded from these alerts. Since the program launched, more phones have been added to the list of capable devices. To see if your phone is eligible, check with your mobile carrier. These alerts are complimentary, and won’t impact texting or data plans.

Residents of the Denver area first saw this feature in action in Oct. 2012, when an AMBER Alert was issued for the disappearance of Jessica Ridgeway.

“It really scared me,” said Colin McAuliffe, a freshman at Auraria. “For these alerts to have never gone off before and for me to get one out of the blue on my phone, it was pretty scary. After I realized what it was, I thought it was cool.”

With the advent of the Internet and smartphones, millennials are less apt to listen to the radio or watch basic cable, which is where most of these alerts were broadcasted originally. Because of these alerts, more people have an elevated situational awareness.

“I don’t have cable at my house, and I typically listen to the music on my phone while in my car. When the floods started last year, I was driving and got a Flash Flood Warning on my phone,” said Jameson Edwards, a junior at Auraria. “It might have saved my life.”

Critics of the system are skeptical due to the fact that these alerts are based on location, with the fear of the government tracking them to alert them. Instead, these alerts are broadcasted through cell towers.

Using a weather event as an example, the National Weather Service will issue a warning that covers approximately 100 sq. miles, and every cell tower in the warning area will receive the alerts. The best part is that if you drive into the warning area after an alert is issued but is still active, you’ll still receive the alerts.

Thanks to technology, staying safe has never been easier. Although these alerts are obnoxious, 30 seconds of annoyance is much better than potentially endangering yourself.


What alerts am I receiving?

  • Weather alerts are issued for Tsunami, Tornado, Hurricane, Flash Flood, Typhoons, Dust Storm and Extreme Wind Warnings
  • AMBER Alerts are issued in critical child abduction situations where the child’s safety is in immediate danger.
  • Presidential alerts are issued in instances of national emergency, such as a terrorist attack.
  • Additional warnings may come from local law enforcement and emergency management for things like evacuations for wildfire.

5 Responses to “Wireless Emergency Alerts Help Bridge Gap with Millennials”

  1. Kelsey Says:

    This was an interesting article. Well written. I liked the quotes.


  2. Emily Says:

    Great story, especially liked the beginning. Like to the go box as well. Very informative, didn’t know there were all those different alerts.


    • Cheyenne Says:

      ur fit the description to a stereotype; the person who claims to be the human thesaurus of hip hop… the all kn3iong&#82w0; bro, the moment u think eazy e is not good enough,? means u dont even appreciate art, because when u compare him back then to anyone now u should put into account how hard it wouldve been for any of those so called rappers to do something like that in a time when no one else did… that being a pioneer and eazy IS the first person to come out with gangsta rap on a public level


  3. Aaron Lambert Says:

    Good lead, and interesting topic!


  4. Nancy Says:

    I really liked this story. I have an older phone but last year I started getting texts during flash floods from the National Weather Channel and I was scared at first, the alerts are loud and a bit scary at first until you realize what is going on. I thought it was helpful how you explained the difference in alerts.


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