Some cell phone users in San Diego County were surprised today when their phones made a strange tone and warned them in a text message of a severe threat of flash floods.
CMAS is a national emergency alert system that launched nationally this year as a joint service of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and commercial wireless carriers. County officials said Monday they will work with federal partners to review how and when the system should be used.
The service enables government agencies to use cell towers to send targeted emergency alerts. The CMAS system uses cell phone towers to geographically target people in areas where the threat applies. However, Monday’s flash flood warning was broadcast to cell phone users all over the region, even though the warning applied to just a few East County communities, where monsoonal thunderclouds opened up Monday afternoon. The National Weather Service has said it will use CMAS any time it issues a Tornado Warning, Flash Flood Warning, Hurricane and Typhoon Warning, Extreme Wind Warning, Blizzard and Ice Storm Warning or Dust Storm Warning. Once the County is using CMAS, that system could reach residents who have not registered their cell phones with AlertSanDiego, but CMAS doesn't replace the local system. With a unique sound and vibration, Wireless Emergency Alerts keep you in the know, wherever you are. Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are emergency messages sent by authorized government alerting authorities through your mobile carrier.

Yes, if you have a WEA-capable phone and your wireless carrier participates in the program. If you travel into a threat area after an alert is first sent, your WEA-capable device will receive the message when you enter the area. You can opt-out of receiving WEA messages for imminent threats and AMBER alerts, but not for Presidential messages. The Extreme alerts from the National Weather Service include warnings for tsunamis, tornadoes, extreme winds, hurricanes and typhoons.
WEA messages are broadcast using radio-like technology from cell towers in, and sometimes around, the actual warning area. FEMA has produced Public Service Announcements that demonstrate how wireless alerts save lives. The NWS pushes our suite of warnings, advisories, and watches to a national collection pointcalled the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) The NWS specially marks our most critical NWS alerts for WEA distribution, so that when they reach IPAWS, they are pushed to commercial wireless carriers who broadcast the alert from cell towers in the threat area to your cell phone. In our region, the National Weather Service, which activated its ability to use the system on June 28, is currently the sole agency using it. Government partners include local and state public safety agencies, FEMA, the FCC, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Weather Service.
With WEA, alerts can be sent to your mobile device when you may be in harm's way, without need to download an app or subscribe to a service.

WEA use radio technology to broadcast the alert from cell towers to mobile devices in the area of the threat. The Severe alerts from National Weather Service include warnings for flash floods and dust storms. Therefore, an alert can reach cell phones outside of the actual warning area depending on the broadcast range of the cell towers which broadcast the alert. Other sources include NOAA Weather Radio, news media coverage, the Emergency Alert System on radio and TV broadcasts, desktop applications, mobile applications, and other alerting methods offered by local and state public safety agencies. IPAWS also serves as collection point for non-weather alerts, such as civil and child abduction emergency messages which are issued by other emergency authorities. Later this year, the County Office of Emergency Services will add the ability use the system in emergencies. America’s wireless industry is helping to build a Weather-Ready Nation through a nationwide text emergency alert system, called Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), which will warn you when weather threatens.

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