Who Would Ever Think Emergency Alert Notification Would Be So Complex?
CTIA (Cellular Telephone Industries Association) describes three different types of WEAs (Child Abduction, Imminent Threat Alert, National Alert), but FEMA describes five types (Presidential Alert, Imminent Threat Alert, Public Safety Alert, AMBER Alert, and Opt-in Test Alert Messages). YouTube Tips ⓘ
A FEMA and FCC Emergency Alert Test is 10 days away — planned for Wednesday, October 4, 2023 around 2:20 p.m. The test will occur one day after October’s monthly test of the outdoor warning sirens (required by State of Illinois legislation). The routine Tuesday of every month test also includes test alerts for people who have signed up to be included in mass notification alerts from Everbridge — included for communities in the jurisdiction of the Northwest Central Dispatch System 9-1-1 center.
Readers of this article will see below that with the variety of mass notification services provided from a variety of sources and a variety of methods, configuring your phone and email to manage and understand your preferences can be a little difficult.
FEMA, in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), will conduct a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) this fall.
The national test will consist of two portions, testing WEA and EAS capabilities. Both tests are scheduled to begin at approximately 2:20 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023.
The WEA portion of the test will be directed to all consumer cell phones. This will be the third nationwide test, but will be the second test to all cellular devices. The test message will display in either English or in Spanish, depending on the language settings of the wireless handset. The test message is not a text message, but a message that overlays the cellular device display.
The EAS portion of the test will be sent to radios and televisions. This will be the seventh nationwide EAS test.
FEMA and the FCC are coordinating with EAS participants, wireless providers, emergency managers and other stakeholders in preparation for this national test to minimize confusion and to maximize the public safety value of the test.
The purpose of the Oct. 4, 2023 test is to ensure that the systems continue to be effective means of warning the public about emergencies, particularly those on the national level. In case the Oct. 4 test is postponed due to widespread severe weather or other significant events, the back-up testing date is Oct. 11, 2023.
The WEA portion of the test will be initiated using FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), a centralized internet-based system administered by FEMA that enables authorities to send authenticated emergency messages to the public through multiple communications networks. The WEA test will be administered via a code sent to cell phones.
This year the EAS message will be disseminated as a Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) message via the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System-Open Platform for Emergency Networks (IPAWS-OPEN).
All wireless phones should receive the message only once. The following can be expected from the nationwide WEA test:
Beginning at approximately 2:20 p.m. ET, cell towers will broadcast the test for approximately 30 minutes. During this time, WEA-compatible wireless phones that are switched on, within range of an active cell tower, and whose wireless provider participates in WEA, should be capable of receiving the test message.
For consumers, the message that appears on their phones will read: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”
Phones with the main menu set to Spanish will display: “ESTA ES UNA PRUEBA del Sistema Nacional de Alerta de Emergencia. No se necesita acción.”
WEA alerts are created and sent by authorized federal, state, local, tribal and territorial government agencies through IPAWS to participating wireless providers, which deliver the alerts to compatible handsets in geo-targeted areas. To help ensure that these alerts are accessible to the entire public, including people with disabilities, the alerts are accompanied by a unique tone and vibration.
Important information about the EAS test:
The EAS portion of the test is scheduled to last approximately one minute and will be conducted with the participation of radio and television broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio and television providers and wireline video providers.
The test message will be similar to the regular monthly EAS test messages with which the public is familiar. It will state: “This is a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System, issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, covering the United States from 14:20 to 14:50 hours ET. This is only a test. No action is required by the public.
Cause for Alert Confusion
The cause for confusion lies with the lack of consistent information and/or lack of adequate information from FEMA, cellphone manufacturers (such as Apple), wireless service providers (such as Verizon Wireless), the Cellular Telephone Industries Association, dispatch centers and local municipalities.
As the test time approaches, you might want to make sure your cellphone is configured to display notifications and/or provide sound notification during the test by keeping the Emergency Alerts setting and the Public Safety Alerts setting on.
However, for your specific preferences, you’re on your own.
The defined difference between Emergency Alerts and a Public Safety Alerts is a little difficult to discover and understand. However, we might figure it out according to FEMA document Wireless Emergency Alerts. According to FEMA, there are four types of messages (not including test messages):
Imminent Threat Alerts,
Public Safety Alerts, and
WEA TYPES …
Types of Wireless Emergency Alerts
Presidential Alerts are a special class of alerts only sent during a national emergency.
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.
America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) Alerts are urgent bulletins issued in child-abduction cases. Rapid and effective public alerts often play a crucial role in returning a missing child safely. An AMBER Alert instantly enables the entire community to assist in the search for and safe recovery of the child.
Opt-in Test Messages assess the capability of state and local officials to send their WEAs. The message will state that this is a TEST.
The federal government, Apple, or Verizon do not provide specific examples for configuring Emergency Alerts vs Public Alerts on a phone’s settings.
You might wonder, does a Tornado Warning fall under an Emergency Alert or a Public Safety Alert category? On your own, you might decide that since a tornado is an imminent severe weather threat, it should logically fall under Emergency Alerts.
A Presidential Alert, which is only sent in a national emergency, would logically fall under Emergency Alerts.
Here is where it gets a little confusing. According to FEMA, an active shooter is considered an Imminent Threat Alert and therefore an Emergency Alert, but according to practical experience an “at large” armed robber or carjacker alert might be considered a Public Safety Alert because the incident might not be considered an imminent threat.
There is also some uncertainty under what conditions local governments use WEA or some other notification, such as mass alert systems from Everbridge, CivicPlus, CodeRed, Nixle (acquired by Everbridge), and Rave.
Since the message outputs are similar, it may be difficult for cellphone users to configure their preferences, or understand where messages are originating.
Arlington Heights, Barrington, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg and Streamwood use the Everbridge Citizen-Alert emergency alert program. In Arlington Heights the service is known as the Arlington Alert program. These programs require citizens to sign up for notifications. WEA alerts don’t require sign up. Don’t confuse Citizen-Alert or Arlington Alert with Citizen Observer, which provides police information — mostly about recent crime incidents.
Some other suburbs in the Chicagoland and nationwide use other mass notification services from other providers. Of course, there are also colleges and universities that have their own mass notification services.
The Everbridge Citizen-Alert emergency notification system enables communities to provide critical information quickly in a variety of situations, including critical road closures, missing persons, and the potential evacuation of buildings or neighborhoods. Some communities in the Northwest Central Dispatch System (9-1-1 Center) have opted to share additional types of updates. Everbridge (NASDAQ: EVBG) is a publicly traded company with worldwide service and headquarters in Pasadena, California and Burlington, Massachusetts.
Regarding public alerts, the Village of Arlington Heights once put out an alert for an “at large” suspect near Northpoint Shopping center at Arlington Heights Road and Rand Road. Otherwise, the Village of Arlington Heights has sent out a majority of notifications that consist of missing children or teen alerts, missing endangered individuals, and/or missing senior alerts. These alerts are believed to have originated from Everbridge. Missing children or missing teen alerts may by distributed from Everbridge before AMBER Alerts are distributed via WEA (if they’re distributed at all) because AMBER Alerts have more restrictive qualifications for notification releases.
The Northwest Central Dispatch System 9-1-1 center has also notified small areas in neighborhoods in cases of armed barricaded subjects (for example) that only affect the immediate vicinity. This “reverse 9-1-1” capability can be managed without citizen sign-up to a mass notification service. Local governments don’t typically provide information about how this works, but local reverse 9-1-1 has been activated over the years. The system uses a database of telephone numbers and associated addresses, which is networked with a geographic information system (GIS) that can be used to deliver recorded emergency notifications to a selected set of telephone service subscribers.
“Reverse 9-1-1” is often informally used to describe the other mass notification systems, but technically “Reverse 9-1-1” is a specific function of telephone subscriber databases and GIS information.
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Keep in mind that Apple iPhone users have to use the Notification Center to review emergency alerts (i.e., WEA alerts) that are not sent as text messages or emails. No WEA alerts are sent as text messages. This makes it a little cumbersome, especially in an emergency, for Apple iPhone users to access the history of WEA messages. Sometimes it is difficult to find a WEA alert that was just sent, because it doesn’t sit in a nice niche of its own. Instead it is lot with all the other notifications in the Notification Center. It could be lost in a series of non-essential notifications, such as the Google Maps app suggesting you find a place using the Google Maps app. Sometimes a recent WEA message disappears immediately after notification.
Also, if you clear the notifications in the Notifications Center, all the WEA messages will be gone.
The Android OS has a better system for holding on to WEA messages.
About emergency and government alerts on iPhone
Learn how to turn on emergency, government, and public safety alerts on your iPhone.
You can receive emergency, government, and public safety alerts on your iPhone. In the event of an emergency, your iPhone might display:
Alerts issued by your country or region’s government
Alerts involving imminent threats to safety or life
Alerts for extreme weather conditions
AMBER alerts (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response)
Public Safety Alerts
You can also receive emergency, government, and public safety alerts on your Apple Watch.
1. AMBER alerts and Public Safety Alerts aren’t available in all countries or regions.
Turn Government Alerts on or off
By default, Government Alerts are turned on for your device.2 When you receive a government alert, you hear a special sound that’s similar to an alarm. If you want to turn these alerts on or off, follow these steps:
Go to Settings > Notifications.
Scroll to the bottom of the screen.
Under Government Alerts, turn the type of alert on or off.
2. Government Alerts are supported when using a SIM card from a supported carrier. For more information, contact your carrier.
3. In some countries or regions, you may not be able to disable Government Alerts.
Choose to receive Test Emergency Alerts in the United States
When your iPhone is connected to a carrier in the United States—using a U.S. SIM or while roaming in the U.S.—you can enable Test Emergency Alerts. By default, this is turned off. When you receive this type of alert, you’ll hear a sound that’s similar to an alarm, and the alert will mention that it’s a test.
Government test alerts are available with U.S. carriers, including Puerto Rico. Your local government is responsible for the content and the frequency of the test alerts. You can disable this feature anytime with the following steps. For more information, contact your carrier.
If you’re using iOS 15.4 or later
To turn Test Alerts on or off:
Make sure that your iPhone is using the latest version of iOS (iOS 15.6 or later).
Go to Settings > Notifications.
Turn Test Alerts on or off.
If you’re using iOS 15.3 or earlier
To turn Test Alerts on:
Open the Phone app and tap Keypad.
Enter *5005*25371# and tap the Call buttonNo alt supplied for Image. You’ll get an alert that says “Test alerts enabled.”
To turn Test Alerts off:
Open the Phone app and tap Keypad.
Enter *5005*25370# and tap the Call buttonNo alt supplied for Image. You’ll get an alert that says “Test alerts disabled.”
Citizen Alert/Arlington Alert Sign Up/Sign in
FEMA Wireless Emergency Alerts
Apple: About emergency and government alerts on iPhone