Severe Weather Alerts For Cell Phones - FOX 18 Quad Cities News and Weather

Severe Weather Alerts For Cell Phones

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New technology is making it possible to set weather alerts without installing apps. New technology is making it possible to set weather alerts without installing apps.

With severe weather season here, there's a lot of technology to keep you safe, from weather sirens and radios, to apps on your phone.

However, a relatively new technology can also send warnings to your smart phone without downloading anything.

It's similar to the emergency alert system for TV stations.

The wireless emergency alert system uses your smart phone as if it were a portable alert device.

When a weather emergency has been issued like a tornado warning, that message gets sent to the cell towers in the affected area.

If you're there, your smart phone will get the message.

"I think wireless and cell phone alerting technology in general is one of the greatest advances in public safety we've seen in a long time," says National Weather Service Meteorologist Donna Dubberke. She says this phone warning system changes the game in getting information out to the public. Now, anyone with the latest phone can be warned of tornados or flash floods, even if they have no access to TV or the Internet.

"If the tower within that zone is warned, then the phones within the area of that tower would also be warned," says Dubberke.

The system improves upon the weather radio system. Storms can knock out those facilities. The ones in Burlington and Cedar Rapids stopped broadcasting for several hours on Sunday, leaving weather radios without the signal needed to receive an alert. The phones just need to connect to a tower.

"[It] goes through some weather service computers, then some FEMA computers, and then into the cell phone towers," says Dubberke.

The alerts look like text messages and they can also set off distinct sounds from the phones.

"It sounds really annoying actually, it sounds like a really loud alert, kind of like a school bell or a fire alarm," says Sprint representative Memie Williamson.

She's had people come in to get the alerts turned off. They didn't like being woken up at two in the morning. You can opt out of the program.

"I keep mine on just in case, what if something does happen, something might happen in our town," says Williamson.

"Not every thunderstorm gets a wireless emergency alert, only a handful, tornado warnings, flash flood warnings," says Dubberke.

Warnings that come up quickly and can catch people by surprise.

Not all phones are capable of receiving the wireless emergency alerts.

Check with your service provider to see if your phone is capable.

The system also broadcasts Amber alerts and other national emergencies.

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