Millions of smartphone users will soon begin receiving text messages about severe weather from a sophisticated government system that can send a blanket warning to mobile devices in the path of a dangerous storm.
Beginning today, the system will notify people about approaching tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards and other threats. Most messages are anticipated to be weather-related. It sends geographically targeted text alerts over cellular networks.
When a warning is issued for a specific county, a message of no more than 90 characters will cause late-model smartphones in that area to sound a special tone and vibrate. Alerts will automatically “pop up” on the mobile device screen.
All devices that are Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) enabled will have a logo on the side of the box (above), along with wording stating the device is Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) capable.
The new Wireless Emergency Alerts system gives the National Weather Service a new way to warn Americans about menacing weather, even if they are nowhere near a television, radio or storm sirens. Mostly the messages appear to tell you to tune into your local satellite-fed, group-owned broadcast station for more information.
Wireless carriers serving almost 97 percent of U.S. subscribers have agreed to participate, including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile USA. Each of the four offers at least some phones capable of receiving emergency alerts, with more on the way.
It is part of a broader alert network the Federal Emergency Management Agency launched in April that can also send public-safety warnings from the president and participating state and local governments. But the weather service estimates that more than 90 percent of the messages will be about storms.
The Commercial Mobile Alert System enables commercial mobile providers to transmit emergency alerts to their subscribers. Users do not have to sign up for the service or pay for the text message. And people who prefer not to get the warnings can opt out of the system.
LG is readying M-EAS-equipped mobile DTV handsets and Harris is finalizing broadcast equipment designs to support a nationwide commercial deployment of M-EAS service, expected by 2014.
The terrestrial broadcast M-EAS project is now delivering trial alerts (that could include video, audio, text, and graphics) to mobile DTV-equipped cellphones, tablets, laptops, netbooks, and in-car navigation systems; in order to avoid the potential roadblocks of cellular system congestion during emergencies.
Backwards-compatible with the ATSC A/153 Mobile DTV standard, M-EAS is currently in the first phase of a trial with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; PBS; public broadcasters WGBH in Boston, Vegas PBS and Alabama Public Television; Harris; LG Electronics; and Roundbox.
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