Networking

Wireless Emergency Alerts: Legit service or spreading fear and panic?

Learn about Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and how to disable them on your mobile device.

Before I really dig into Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), I need to disclose that my level of anxiety has definitely increased with age. I didn't used to be scared of flying on airplanes, heights, or tornadoes, but over the past few years, these fears have instigated full-fledged panic attacks.

So, when I received a WEA on my Motorola Droid Razr yesterday, warning me about a possible flood in my area, you'd think that I'd be grateful — you know, so that I'd have time to batten down the hatches, build an arc, and double-check my living will. Well, I wasn't. In fact, after I received the second flood warning, I spent the next half hour trying to figure out where the heck these alerts were coming from and how they could be disabled!

What are Wireless Emergency Alerts?

According to a recent post on eWeek:

"The Federal Emergency Management Agency and wireless carriers are rolling out emergency alerts, called the Wireless Emergency Alert, or WEA, system, via text-like messages on mobile phones to allow federal, state and local governments to issue critical alerts....

"WEA is also referred to as Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), which the FCC initiated in 2006 under the Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act. The FCC set April 2012 as the deadline for carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless) to begin sending the alerts."

Verizon started Wireless Emergency Alerts on April 7, 2012. They have a handy FAQ page that gives all the details, but here's the skinny version:

"Wireless Emergency Alerts are free wireless notifications that are delivered to your mobile device (currently, this includes only a select number of capable devices, like the Droid Razr) as part of a new public safety system provided by Authorized Senders. They are designed to inform you of imminent threats to safety (such as severe weather) or missing persons (AMBER Alerts) in your area."

These alerts don't sound like your typical text message. They have a distinct repetitive tone that's accompanied by a vibration. This alone succeeds in alerting you, because you're wondering what the heck is going on with your phone! When you receive the message — which, by the way, you will receive, even if you have an SMS Block feature enabled, because WEA alerts don't travel over SMS — it tells you information about the alert category, event type, response, severity, and urgency.

Honestly, the flood alerts I received yesterday freaked me out, and I'm not even scared of heavy rain... yet. I checked the local radar map, and I didn't see anything significant for the 6-hour forecast in my area. Relax. False call. An hour later, when I heard that same beeping sequence and vibration, I knew I had to disable the WEA feature. It might work for you, but it certainly doesn't work for me (without a Xanax).

How do you disable Wireless Emergency Alerts?

Here are the steps to disable WEA on a Droid Razr. Please note that the directions may vary for different carriers and mobile devices. Also, you can not disable the Presidential Alerts, which provides news of national authority concern. Let's hope we never receive one of these!

  1. From your home screen, press the Apps icon
  2. Select Emergency Alerts
  3. Tap the settings icon
  4. Deselect all of the options (except the Presidential Alert, which is mandatory)

What are your thoughts about WEA? Do you appreciate the extra warning, or would you prefer the choice of voluntarily signing up? Please share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.

About

Sonja Thompson has worked for TechRepublic since October of 1999. She is currently a Senior Editor and the host of the several blogs.

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