Wireless Emergency Alerts: What You Need to Know

U.S. cell service providers are rolling out support for Wireless Emergency Alerts. The service launched in spring 2012, and carriers have been slowly adding support since then. AT&T iPhone owners started receiving notifications over the weekend that they now have the feature, so what exactly is WEA?

WEA is a system that local, state, and federal government agencies can use to send emergency alert text messages to smartphones. The messages don't count against your text message plan, and shouldn't be any longer than 90 characters.

AT&T began pushing WEA support to iPhone owners over the weekendAT&T began pushing WEA support to iPhone owners over the weekend

The types of alerts you'll receive through WEA include imminent threat alerts, AMBER alerts, and Presidential alerts. Imminent threat alerts include man-made and natural disasters such as tornados, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Messages are sent to targeted areas, so you won't receive hurricane alerts, for example, if you live in Colorado.

WEA alerts are an opt-out feature, meaning once your cell service carrier pushes the update to your smartphone, you get messages by default and need to change settings to disable them. You can disable AMBER alerts and imminent threat alerts, but there isn't a way to shut off Presidential alerts.

Here's how to disable WEA alerts on your iPhone:

  • Tap Settings
  • Tap Notifications
  • Scroll down to Government Alerts and set the alerts you don't want to receive to OFF

You can control which WEA alerts you get through Notifications settingsYou can control which WEA alerts you get through Notifications settings

So far, the number of messages that have been sent through WEA seems to be limited, which means they haven't been disruptive or annoying.

Alerts are active by default because the assumption is that at some point you'll need the information that is occasionally pushed out. Shutting them off means you'll be out of the loop, but if you live in a citadel tower and never ever interact with other humans, maybe you don't need alerts -- assuming there's no chance of natural or man-made disasters where you live, or that lost children might wander by.