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FEMA Notes 10 Years of Wireless Emergency Alerts

Also, a new procedure for opting into tests on Apple devices

Wireless Emergency Alerts are now 10 years old. Government agencies use the system to send messages to cellphones in emergencies. Authorities have sent more than 70,000 WEAs to date. 

Officials at FEMA’s Integrated Alert and Warning System, IPAWS, noted the anniversary.

“In 2007, FEMA began modernizing the nation’s public alert and warning system by integrating new technologies into existing alert systems,” they wrote in a release. 

“The new system, IPAWS, began operation in 2011. The first WEA was sent June 28, 2012 by the National Weather Service for a Flash Flood Warning in Santa Fe, New Mexico.”

As Radio World has reported, the Federal Communications Commission is currently considering several changes to improve the WEA system, including more standardized reporting, and is looking for partners for its testing.

You can watch a short video from FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell speaking about the anniversary at the bottom of this story.

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Also this week, FEMA officials advised the alerting community that there’s a new procedure for consumers who have Apple devices to follow to opt in to WEA tests.

Since 2019, authorities have been able to send WEA tests that only wireless subscribers who opt in to tests will receive. Testing allows emergency authorities to assess WEA performance without disturbing the public with non-emergency messages.

Mobile phones ship from the manufacturer with the test option turned off. Last month, FEMA says, Apple changed its procedure for opting in to tests, affecting devices that use the latest versions of its operating systems.

“This new procedure involves downloading and installing a software component, then turning on an alert option in the device settings. Devices running older versions of the OS use a prior procedure.”

FEMA said both processes are explained in an Apple support document about emergency and government alerts on iPhone and Apple Watch. The section concerning test options is “Choose to Receive Test Emergency Alerts in the United States.”

Settings for Android devices remain unchanged. Google’s Android support site includes WEA information. To opt into tests, search Notifications for Wireless Emergency Alerts and enable State/local test alerts.