No App Required: Emergency weather alerts for your cell phone

May 14, 2012

Technology and weather awareness work hand-in-hand in a new project that brings a special type of text messaging to your mobile device when severe weather is near you.

The FCC and other agencies are planning on launching a new system this month that will allow mobile device owners to receive free alerts when weather warnings have been issued for their area.

The Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) service will send your mobile device free text messages when a weather warning has been placed on the area you are in. But unlike most weather alert services, no sign up is needed.

WEAs will automatically be sent to all WEA-capable mobile devices in a specific area if that area is under a weather warning for weather such as tornadoes, flash floods, hurricanes, typhoons, tsunamis, dust storms, extreme winds, blizzards and ice storms. For a mobile device to be WEA-capable, they must be connected to AT&T, Cellcom, Cricket, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular or Verizon Wireless.

This is the first national service offered by the federal government and the wireless industry, Weather forecasting websites offer weather alert services, but they are not geographically based.

What do we mean by "geographically based"? Text services rely on phone numbers, but they don't realize where exactly you are. So you must manually go in and change your location. The WEA service doesn't use phone numbers. It uses the cell towers in the area where the warnings were issued to broadcast a message to all capable phones in that area.

For example, if you bought your phone in Dallas, and was traveling through Phoenix when a tornado warning was issued for Phoenix, you would receive a message on your phone stating to seek shelter immediately.

But it doesn't stop there. Along with weather warnings, WEAs will also send out Amber alerts and Presidential alerts for national emergencies. You will be able to opt out of weather and Amber alerts, but not Presidential alerts.

The FCC is expecting this service to launch in May.