Since I work for a major wireless corporation (you know, the BEST one…) I figured I owe people in my life a little education on the Presidential Alert system that sent a test alert today.
There’s a lot of feelings about our current president, and his ability to not sound like a bratty child when he communicates, and whether or not he will use this new alert system as his own play toy to further humiliate himself to the masses of Americans.
So for starters, the basics:
❓What is it? Presidential Alerts are part of IPAWS, or, the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System. They are one type of alert that can be sent through the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system, which is communicated through cell phones.
Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) 📲(cell phones)
Emergency Alert System (EAS) 📻📺📡(radio, tv, cable, satellite)
NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) 📻(radio only)
Internet Systems 🖥(certain, specific pieces of software designed to receive non-weather emergency messages)
❓Who is responsible for opening the door to more alerts on our phones?
Adding Presidential Alerts to the WEA system is an initiative that was passed in 2015 by 44, the sorely-missed (by me, at least) President Obama. This initiative consolidates various wireless alert systems that were already in place, and puts them under the jurisdiction of the president, who holds sole responsibility for ordering communications through this system. The President has full authority to send communications through this system, bypassing governing bodies that are normally responsible for these alerts, like NOAA and AMBER. FEMA is the government organization responsible for carrying out the messages, and maintaining and testing the alert system.
❓Can I opt-out or block the alerts?
Short Answer: No.
Long Answer: Participation in these alerts has already been chosen for you by your wireless provider. All 4 major wireless providers opted-in from the introduction of the bill. Most secondary and local wireless providers opted-in as well.
Any WEA receive-compatible cell phones (which is 99%) that are turned on and within-range of ANY cell tower (within the US) that participates in sending WEA alerts will receive Presidential Alerts, with no options to block or opt-out.
As with most technology enhancements, this opens the door to opportunity, both good, and abuse. There’s been a lot of light-hearted, to dishearten humor about being forced to receive alerts from 45, and the validity and trustworthiness of potential messages as a result. Personally, I err on the side of optimism, and although I have no reason to put good faith in 45 to not abuse the alert system, I imagine it’s more complicated for him to go through multiple channels to send a rant to the American people, vs simply sending a dumb tweet from his phone. I believe this type of alert being added to the WEA system is long overdue for our cell phones, and opens the door to enhanced communications in times of national crisis when we need it most.
My personal hope is that there will be a time when the WEA system can support the streaming of updates, like tuning in to the NOAA broadcasts during weather emergencies- because most people I know do not own an actual AM/FM radio, and when there’s a natural disaster and infrastructure is down, most people put priority on keeping their phones charged, instead of getting a radio and batteries for it.
I hope this tidbit of information helped clear up any questions you might have had about the alerts, what they’re for, who controls them, etc. Fingers crossed 🤞🏻 that 45 can stick to ranting on Twitter, and reserve the emergency system for true emergencies. Fingers Doubley-crossed 🤞🏻🤞🏻 that the system remains dormant, and that we don’t come across a legitimate reason to actually have to use it.
Thanks for reading!