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Emergency Alerts FAQs

Wireless Emergency Alerts

  1. 1) What devices support Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)?

    U.S. Cellular® has several devices available to support Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). U.S. Cellular is committed to providing Wireless Emergency Alerts to as many phones as possible. To determine if a device is WEA-capable, please review the phone description page.

  2. 2) What will Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) look like and how do they work?

    Read more about how Wireless Emergency Alerts work.

  3. 3) Will there be costs for Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)?

    There is no charge for WEA. Alerts do not impact voice, messaging, or data usage.

  4. 4) What will trigger a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA)?

    There are three types of alerts:
    Presidential: issued by the United States government; used to notify recipients of any national communication from the President; highest priority of the three alert types and cannot be suppressed.
    Imminent Threats: issued by local, state, and federal officials or government agencies; used to provide notification of emergencies where life or property is at risk. Imminent Threats are categorized as Extreme or Severe.
    AMBER: issued by a federal official; used to notify the community of missing, injured, lost, endangered or abducted children.

  5. 5) Will I receive Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) while travelling?

    WEA are enabled throughout the U.S. Cellular coverage area and will be broadcasted to the affected areas within our coverage area. You may receive WEA when roaming on another carrier's network that supports the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) within the 50 states. We cannot guarantee service on another carrier's network.

  6. 6) Do I need to select areas where I want to receive alerts?

    Unlike programs that are based on customer selected zip codes, area codes, or other designated filters, Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are broadcasted to all enabled devices within the affected area.

  7. 7) Will Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) track my location? Do I need GPS to receive an alert?

    No. Neither subscriber information nor GPS is used to broadcast the alerts. Alerts are sent to all Commercial Mobile Alerts System-capable (CMAS) wireless devices in the affected geographical area.

  8. 8) Do Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) have other names?

    The official name for this public safety system is Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). In the early development of the system, it was also referred to as the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) and Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN).

  9. 9) What is the difference between Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and other organizations sending similar types of alerts?

    General Short Message System-type (SMS) alerts from other organizations, while beneficial, are limited in nature and not authenticated through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Only authorized local, state, and federal officials can send WEA regarding critical emergencies, such as a tornado or a terrorist threat, to the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS).

    WEA are unique because they utilize cell broadcast technology which is not subject to the same network congestion limitations as SMS and Multi Media System (MMS) messages. Cell broadcast technology allows messages to be sent to mobile phones in a specific geographical area regardless of the amount of traffic on the network.

  10. 10) How do I unsubscribe from receiving Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)?

    You may change settings within your device to opt out of Imminent Threats and AMBER alerts, but you may not opt out of Presidential alerts. Refer to the manufacturer's website for the full user guide with operating instructions and information.

  11. 11) Why did I receive a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) when I have blocked text or picture messaging from my account?

    Though WEA look similar to text or picture messages, they are broadcast messages that are not delivered through the Short Message System (SMS) or Multi Media System (MMS) and are therefore not blocked. There is no charge for WEA and they do not impact voice, messaging or data usage.

  12. 12) A Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) was distributed in my area, but I didn't receive it. Why?

    In some cases, factors outside of our control, such as devices not being powered on, local terrain or technical difficulties could prevent the delivery of WEA. Delivery of WEA is not guaranteed and may not be received in weak signal areas.

  13. 13) Will I receive a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) if I am on a call or in a data session when an alert is issued?

    If you are in the affected area, you will receive the alert when your call or data session is concluded if the alert period has not expired.

  14. 14) Will I receive a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) if my phone is turned off when an alert is issued?

    No, unless you turn your phone on before the alert period has expired. The same is true if your phone is in airplane mode.

  15. 15) Who should I contact if I have questions or need additional information about a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) that I received?

    You should contact the alert sender with any questions about a specific alert. U.S. Cellular is not responsible for the content of any WEA and has no information beyond what is included in the message. The alerts originate from local, state or federal agencies.

  16. 16) Can I disable the audible tone for incoming alerts?

    Yes. Audible tones can be disabled in the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) alert settings or by turning off the master volume.

  17. 17) How can I tell the difference between a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) and a text message?

    WEA have a unique sound and vibration that distinguish them from text messages. They also have a distinct visual notification.

  18. 18) Will I receive test alerts similar to the Emergency Alert System used with radio and television?

    No. Wireless carriers are required to participate in monthly tests of the system; however, customers will not receive test Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA).

  19. 19) Will rebooting my phone change my Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) settings?

    WEA settings will not change if the phone is rebooted; however, they will change if the phone is reset back to the manufacturer's settings.

  20. 20) Why did I receive multiple alerts?

    Commercial Mobile Alert System-capable (CMAS) devices should receive an alert only once; however, similar messages may be issued within the alert period or your device may receive a duplicate alert if you are roaming on another carrier's network.

  21. 21) Will all local, state and federal government agencies participate in sending Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)?

    Not all local, state or federal agencies are authorized to send WEA messages via the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS). Customers can check with their local government to learn if they are authorized.

  22. 22) Why did I receive a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) when my account has been suspended or cancelled?

    Wireless Emergency Alerts are a public safety service offered at no charge and they do not impact voice, messaging or data usage. As a result, you will receive WEA regardless of your account status. They are broadcasted to all customers with a CMAS-capable device in the affected area.

  23. 23) I received a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) that I want to share with others. How can I do that?

    WEA cannot be forwarded, replied to, copied or edited. They will be archived and can be deleted.

  24. 24) Why was the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) developed and what is the history of Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)?

    In 2006, Congress passed the Warning, Alert and Response Network Act that allows wireless carriers to broadcast emergency alerts to their customers on a voluntary basis. By the direction of Congress, the act was implemented "to ensure that all Americans have the capability to receive timely and accurate alerts, warnings and critical information regarding disasters and other emergencies irrespective of what communications technologies they use." With this new public safety system, the wireless industry now joins the radio and television industry in broadcasting emergency notifications to the public.

  25. 25) If I signed up to receive Wireless AMBER Alerts from U.S. Cellular in conjunction with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), will I also receive AMBER Alerts through Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)?

    In late 2012, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and Syniverse formally announced the Wireless AMBER Alerts™ program ceased operations as part of the nation's transition to the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) program. As of December 31, 2012, the legacy Wireless AMBER Alerts program fully transitioned to the Wireless Emergency Alert platform. These alerts meet the U.S. Department of Justice's criteria to help law enforcement search for and locate an abducted child. Millions of cellphone users across the country will now receive free, automatic notifications about abducted children in their area as part of the WEA program. The 700,000 wireless customers originally enrolled in Wireless AMBER Alerts received text messages about the transition and alternative sources for receiving AMBER Alerts. For more information about the alternative sources, please visit http://www.missingkids.com/ambersignup/.

  26. EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM (WEA/EAS)

    BACKGROUND

    Today, the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (Bureau) of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) provides notice to all Participating Commercial Mobile Service (CMS) Providers, Emergency Alert System (EAS) Participants, and to the public that, as described below, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in coordination with the FCC, will conduct a nationwide combined test of the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) and EAS on September 20, 2018, with a back-up date of October 3, 2018.

    NATIONWIDE WEA AND EAS TEST

    At 2:18 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), on September 20 FEMA will send a WEA test message to WEA-capable wireless devices throughout the entire United States and territories. All wireless providers that have elected to participate in WEA are required to participate in this nationwide test. The WEA test message will state: "THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed."
  27. 26) What is the Emergency Alert System?

    The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is a national public warning system that requires EAS Participants (i.e. radio and television broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio and television providers, and wireline video providers) to provide the President with communications capability to address the nation during a national emergency. The system also may be used by state, local, tribal, and territorial authorities, in cooperation with EAS Participants, to deliver important emergency information, such as weather information, AMBER alerts, and local incident information targeted to specific areas.

  28. 27) Why is FEMA conducting a joint WEA and EAS test?

    The nationwide WEA and EAS test will provide FEMA with valuable information on the effectiveness of WEA accompanying an EAS for a national Presidential alert. Nationwide EAS-WEA testing helps FEMA and industry participants to maintain and improve alert and warning capabilities at the federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial levels, together with testing the nationwide WEA capability for the first time.

  29. 28) What are Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs)?

    WEAs are emergency messages sent by authorized government alerting authorities through participating wireless providers. To date, WEAs have been issued for extreme weather and other threatening emergencies in your area, and AMBER alerts. Presidential Alerts are to be used during a national emergency, though none have been sent to date. This will be the first national WEA test. More information on WEA can be viewed here online at https://www.fema.gov/frequently-asked-questions-wireless-emergency-alerts.

  30. 29) What types of alerts are sent through WEA?

    There are presently three categories of alerts sent through WEA: imminent threat alerts about threatening emergencies in an area including extreme weather, AMBER alerts, and Presidential alerts about emergencies of national consequence. Users may opt of receiving alerts in the imminent threat and AMBER categories but cannot opt out of receiving Presidential alerts.

  31. 30) What can I expect from the WEA test?

    Most WEA-capable handsets will receive the alert within a few minutes of the start of the test. However, there are conditions where some handsets will not receive the alert, even your wireless provider's network, and your handset work as designed.

    Handsets that receive an alert will initiate a special tone and vibration, both repeated twice. Consumers should receive a visual message if their phone is on silent. And while the wireless networks will repeat the broadcast of the test alert during a 30-minute period, your handset should only receive the alert once. The on screen message will read "THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed."

    The nationwide WEA test will use the same system that is used by state, local, territorial, and tribal authorities, and the National Weather Service to send alerts about local emergencies and AMBER alerts.

  32. 31) When will I receive the WEA alert?

    Most WEA-capable handsets should receive the WEA test message shortly after FEMA initiates the WEA portion of the test at 2:18 p.m. EDT on September 20. If the primary date is unsuitable for nationwide EAS - WEA test, a backup date of October 3 will be used.

    In order to receive the WEA test message, a handset must be WEA-capable, switched on and must be in the vicinity of and receiving service from a cell tower of a wireless carrier that participates in WEA.

  33. 32) What is the WEA test message that will appear on my cell phone or enabled mobile device?

    "THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed".

  34. 33) How will I know the difference between a WEA and a regular text message?

    WEA includes a special tone (some describe it as quite loud) and a vibration, both repeated twice. A distinctive WEA message dialog box also appears on the mobile device's screen.

  35. 34) Does a member of the public sign up for WEA alerts?

    No, one of the significant benefits of WEA is there is no need for a person to have to sign up to receive a WEA alert.

  36. 35) Will an international visitor to United States receive the WEA test message?

    Since WEA is based on global standards, some international visitors will be able to receive the WEA test alert. Others will not, depending on the capabilities of their handset.

  37. 36) What language will the WEA test be in?

    The WEA test will only be in English as WEA currently only supports messages in English, at this time.

  38. 37) What if a real-world event happens on test day?

    In the event widespread severe weather or another significant event occurs on September 20, 2018, the back-up date for the test is October 3, 2018.

  39. 38) What other WEA tests have been conducted to date?

    Some state and local alerting authorities have received waivers from the FCC to conduct WEA tests in their localities. The largest of these was the National Capital Region test in the Washington DC metro area where 13 jurisdictions issued a test WEA on April 5, 2018.

  40. 39) Will I be charged for the reception of this alert?

    No, you will not be charged for this test alert, nor will you be charged for any EAS or WEA messages received.

  41. 40) Will the test alert be used to gather my private data?

    No, both EAS and WEA are broadcasts and do not collect any of your data. This test is strictly a test designed to evaluate the effectiveness of the nation's emergency alerting capabilities.

  42. 41) Does WEA know where I am?

    No. WEA is not capable of – and does not – track the location of anyone receiving a WEA alert.

  43. 42) Will I receive the WEA test message if I'm visiting an area where I don't live, or outside the area where my phone is registered?

    Yes, if you have a WEA-capable phone and your wireless carrier participates in the program (over 100 carriers, including the largest carries, participate).

  44. 43) Where can I provide feedback?

    FEMA invites the public to send comments on the nationwide EAS-WEA test to ipaws@fema.dhs.gov Valuable information on the effectiveness of a national WEA capability using the Presidential alert category. For more information contact: ipaws@fema.dhs.gov.