CMAS/WEA Alerts Successful

The first full-scale test of the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) / Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) occurred during Hurricane Sandy. The National Weather Service (NWS) issued CMAS/WEA alerts via FEMA’s IPAWS system across the eastern seaboard in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Even when cellular networks are overloaded and no longer support person-to-person calls, text, or emails, cell phones can receive CMAS/WEA alerts. 

The alerts are short 90-character, text-like messages that alert people in three types of emergency situations; Presidential Alerts issued by the President or a designee, Imminent Threat Alerts that include severe weather or natural disasters, and AMBER Alerts.

Most major commercial mobile service providers are now selling CMAS capable phones with the service already opted-in so that the public does not need to sign up to receive the alerts.  CMAS alerts do not trigger charges for the alerting authority sending the message nor the individual receiving it.

Cell phone owners with a CMAS-capable mobile device physically located in an area where an alert has been sent will have the ability to receive the alert.

Some examples of messages received during Hurricane Sandy include:

“Blizzard Warning this area til 6:00 PM EDT Tue. Prepare. Avoid Travel. Check media. –NWS”

“Go indoors immediately and remain inside. DO NOT DRIVE. Call 9-1-1 for emergencies only.”

“Flash Flood Warning this area til 3:45 PM EDT. Avoid flood areas. Check local media. –NWS”

Most new mobile devices are CMAS/WEA capable, but it is important to note that they are typically smartphones and not older style phones.  It can also depend on the carrier network capability. For example, AT&T customers with iPhones do not yet have this capability, but iPhone users with Verizon do.

For more information, please download our White Paper “What is IPAWS?”

To read more about how CMAS/WEA messages were received during Hurricane Sandy:

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