Emergency alerts in the palm of your hand

If you were jolted awake last week at 3:30 a.m. by an emergency alert on your mobile device for a flash flood warning, you weren’t alone.

Even if you had never received such a message before, what you received was a Wireless Emergency Alert.

“The various cell carriers are implementing the emergency notifications tower site by tower site as they update equipment at each location,” said Warren County Public Safety Director Todd Lake. “The alerts are specific to the location of the tower, so if you are in Harrisburg or somewhere and there is an alert for that ‘area’ you would receive it.”

According to a Frequently Asked Questions page put out on the alerts by Verizon Wireless, the alerts will include information such as category, type, response, severity, urgency and certainty.

And they will be tied to the location where you are, not necessarily home.

“… Only devices compatible with Wireless Emergency Alerts and operating within the targeted geographical areas should receive these alerts. Alerts are not delivered to any device outside of that area,” the FAQ explains, noting that the alerts can be re-broadcast several times to ensure contact with “the maximum number of devices in the targeted area. Once a device has received an alert, it will not accept duplicate or identical alerts.”

That also helps spread the word to those who are on calls or using the internet on their devices, times when the alert could not be received.

The alerts, which are free and are not subject to text message blocks, are one of three types of alerts, according to Verizon.

In addition to the imminent danger alerts, which address weather, the technology can also be used to push Amber Alerts for missing individuals, especially children, as well as presidential alerts, according to the FAQ, “about news of national authority concern.”

The senders of the alerts determine which locations to notify based on geographical latitude and longitude.

But if you’re wondering why you didn’t get any alerts before last week, that’s because, according to Lake, the technology is new in Warren County.

“As the system becomes fully integrated it will be a very powerful notification,” he said. “As of now only the NWS (National Weather Service) can send alerts.”

That could change in the future and Lake was optimistic that the county Emergency Management office could eventually have access to the resource.