Grand Rapids, Mich. (WOOD) - As tornado warnings were issued Tuesday night near Kalamazoo, residents may have received a new type of government-issued alert on their smart phones.
They're called Wireless Emergency Alerts and they provide information about severe weather, Amber Alerts and national emergencies. Warnings are sent to every properly-equipped smart phone in a warning area, and your phone may already have the technology.
"It is a very large step for us in the warning process," Jim Maczko of the Grand Rapids National Weather Service office said.
His office will issue four types of Wireless Emergency Alerts in our area: tornado, blizzard, flash flood and ice storms. The alerts are only sent in events that require immediate action.
"The cellphone companies take that information and target whoever is in that area to make sure that they have the life-saving information," Maczko said.
The idea is to target as many people in a warning area as possible. Since warning areas do not follow county lines, individual towers are used.
All major national carriers and most regional cellphone companies are on board with the program, but smart phones must be equipped to receive the messages. Each carrier will send the alerts differently.
All smart phones made since the middle of 2012 have the capability to receive the message. Phones older may also have gotten the capability in software upgrades.
A simple Internet search of the phrase "Wireless Emergency Alerts," your service provider, and the make and model of your phone will tell you how to find the program.
"It will be life-saving alert. You won't get these for run of the mill things. These are for when you need to take immediate action to save you and your family from danger," Maczko said.
Wireless Emergency Alerts will also transmit Amber Alerts as well as what is called a Presidential Emergency, which will only be used in case of a true national emergency. Users can opt out of everything but the Presidential Emergency alerts.
The alerts are not texts, so there is no fee. 24 Hour News 8 was told the alert is so unique that it cannot be mistaken for anything else.
FEMA Wireless Emergency Alerts
FEMA alerts fact sheet
CTIA on Wireless Emergency Alerts
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