Homeland Security and Emergency Management

A Division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety

Wireless Emergency and Personal Weather Alerts

Wireless Emergency Alerts

In weather emergencies, warnings can save lives. But traditional warning methods such as television, radio and outdoor sirens don’t always reach everyone.

Emergency officials now have a new way to send warnings directly to cell phones in affected areas — Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs).

These short messages may look like a text message, but unlike texts, which are sent directly to your phone number, these warnings will be broadcast to all phones within range of designated cell towers.

The alerts will tell you the type of warning, the affected area, and the duration. You’ll need to turn to other sources, such as television or your NOAA All-Hazards radio, to get more detailed information about what is happening and what actions you should take.

Key Things to Know

  • WEA messages may look like a text or appear over your home screen.
  • The alert message will include a unique ringtone and vibration.
  • You will never be charged for WEA messages.
  • Emergency alerts will not interrupt any calls or downloads in progress. If you’re on the phone when the alert goes out, you’ll get the message when you end your call.
  • You need not have GPS or any other special features turned on to receive the alerts.
  • The system does not identify your location or phone number – it simply sends the message to all devices in a given area.
  • If you’re on the road and enter an area with an active warning, you’ll receive a WEA message as soon as you come within range of one of the affected cell towers.

Three types of emergency alerts

  • PRESIDENTIAL ALERTS — Issued by the U.S. President in the event of a nationwide emergency.
  • IMMINENT THREAT ALERTS — Typically issued by the National Weather Service; tornado, flash flood and blizzard warnings are some of the warnings that will initially be sent by the NWS.
  • AMBER ALERTS — Issued by the BCA; they will share information about a child abduction. 
No president has ever yet had to issue a presidential alert, but should one become necessary, cell phone providers are required to broadcast it to all WEA-capable phones.
Cell phone users may choose to opt out of imminent threat and/or AMBER alerts, but the procedures vary by carrier. Some providers will allow customers to opt out of one or the other, while others only allow you to opt out of both. Contact your wireless provider for more information.
The National Weather Service strongly encourages all residents to keep all WEAs enabled on your cell phone so you will be alerted in the event of an emergency.

Personal Weather Notifications

The National Weather Service and many local media outlets offer electronic alerting services that provide email, RSS feeds or text messages to cell phones, computers or other devices, either directly or via services such as Facebook, Twitter or others.
These messages are available by voluntary subscription and can provide local information on weather, including watches and warnings. The list below includes a sampling of various electronic alerting services in Minnesota:

Emergency Preparedness And Warning Apps For Smartphones

Get Smart! Today’s smartphones and mobile devices can do more than just communicate – they can help you prepare for, respond or recover from emergencies and disasters. Dozens of apps are available from authoritative sources such as FEMA or the Red Cross – and depending on your type of phone and service, many are free.

Some of these tools can warn you of imminent weather dangers, help you build an emergency kit, locate an emergency shelter or even make your phone work as a beacon or flashlight.

Just perform a search through the app store on your phone for words like “weather” or “preparedness” or “emergencies” and download an app you like. For starters – here is a sample list of some apps that are available.