Wireless emergency alerts are part of a larger notification called Integrated Public Alert & Warning System – IPAWS. There are many branches of IPAWS, but the two most familiar to people are the Wireless Emergency Alert System (WEAS) & the Emergency Alert System (EAS).

The wireless emergency alert system is the one that makes the messages appear on our cellphones. The emergency alert system goes across your tv screens, billboards, and radios. As Benton County Director Of Emergency Management Michael Waddle says, EAS is “the screeching one that scares you” when the test message comes up once a month.

There are many different types of alerts you may receive through the wireless emergency alert system. These include presidential alerts, imminent threat alerts, public safety alerts, AMBER (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alerts, and test message alerts.

According to FEMA’s (Federal Emergency Management Agency website),

  • Presidential alerts are a special class of alerts only used during national emergencies
  • Imminent threat alerts include natural or human-made disasters, extreme weather, active shooters, and other threatening emergencies that are current or emerging.
  • Public safety alerts contain information about a threat that may not be imminent or after an imminent threat has occurred. Public safety alerts are less severe than imminent threat alerts.
  • AMBER Alerts are urgent bulletins issued in child-abduction cases. An AMBER Alert instantly enables the entire community to assist in the search for and safe recovery of a child.
  • Test messages are messages sent by state and local officials to assess their WEAs. A message will display this is a TEST.

How to turn on your wireless emergency alerts

The exact process for turning on your wireless emergency alerts depends on your cell phone provider. Let’s start with Apple iPhones

  1. Go to your “Settings” app.

2. Select “Notifications”.

3. Scroll all the way to the bottom until you see “Government Alerts”.

4. Make sure all alert types are green, indicating they are active.

You may notice you are only able to turn on/off AMBER alerts, emergency alerts, and public safety alerts. You are not able to disable presidential alerts due to their classification. You will only receive a presidential alert during a national emergency.

Next, let’s go through the steps for an Android device.

  1. Go to your “Settings” app and select “Notifications”.

2. Go to “Advanced Settings”.

3. Go to the bottom and open “Wireless emergency alerts”.

4. Turn all the alerts you want to receive to blue to active them. Presidential alerts cannot be deactivated due to their classification.

Why am I getting alerts, even when they are not for my area?

Some of you may have noticed not all the messages you get from the wireless emergency alert system are for your area. This is most often noticed during severe weather alerts, particularly tornado warnings.

You get a notification for a tornado warning on your phone and realize you are not even in the polygon. While newer phones are being geo-targeted to a tenth (1/10) of a mile, some of the older phones may not be able to receive warnings to this degree of accuracy.

Typically, if the warning is received many miles area from the intended area, this is usually an issue with a particular cell tower. In this case, the cell phone company that operates the tower is notified of the problem so they can fix it.