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A new national program will allow some cell phone users to receive alerts for the most dangerous weather directly to their phones, beginning this week, according to Iowa emergency officials.

Under the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system, the National Weather Service will begin issuing alerts for the most severe weather through participating wireless carriers directly to cell phones in designated areas. The alerts will be broadcast by cell towers. Cell phones within the selected area will immediately pick up the signal, provided they have the capability to receive the alerts. If someone travels into a threat area after an alert is first sent, a WEA-capable device will receive the message when the person enters the area.

The availability of WEAs will be dependent on whether the carrier and cell phone are equipped to receive them. All major wireless carriers and hundreds of smaller carriers are taking part in WEA on a voluntary basis. In Iowa, Verizon, U.S. Cellular and AT&T have reported they are ready to carry WEA alerts, however, other cellular carriers may be ready to carry the alerts. People should check with their cellular carriers to find out if WEA alerts are available in their area and whether their cell phone is capable of receiving the alerts. Provider-specific information is available at...

http://www.ctia.org/consumer_info/safety/index.cfm/AID/12082.

The WEA system is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS). It is one more tool for federal, state, local, tribal and territorial officials to alert and warn the public. In addition to weather alerts, WEAs will relay Presidential, AMBER and Imminent Threat alerts to mobile phones using cell broadcast technology that will not get backlogged during times of emergency when wireless voice and data services are highly congested.

According to FEMA, WEAs will look like a text message, and will automatically appear on the mobile device screen showing the type and time of alert along with any action that should be taken. The message will be no more than 90 characters, and will have a unique tone and vibration, indicating a WEA has been received. If an alert is received, citizens should follow the instructions and seek additional information from radio, television, NOAA Weather Radio and other official sources for emergency information. Cell phone users will not be charged for the emergency messaging and may choose to opt out of receiving the WEA alerts.

As with all new cellular services, it will take time for upgrades in infrastructure, coverage, and handset technology to allow WEA alerts to reach all cellular customers. The wireless industry estimates by 2014 most all cell phones on the market will be WEA-capable.

The warnings will be location-based, so if you're traveling, you'll receive an alert for whatever emergency is happening in the area you're in. The service is free and you don't have to sign up.

Click here for more information.

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