Emergency Alert Systems

On January 13th a text message was sent out to the residents of Hawaii using their emergency alert system. The text message read "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL." Of course, the message was taken seriously and caused widespread panic. In reality, it was only a false alarm caused by human error. An easy mistake that has since been addressed.

Government agencies use smartphones to alert the public to natural and man-made disasters. Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) are made possible through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System.  They can be sent by state and local public safety officials. WEAs can also be sent by the National Weather Service, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the President of the United States of America. Alerts are divided into three categories, Imminent Threat, Amber, and Presidental. WEAs are used to quickly and efficiently notify the public of a threat.

Type of Alerts 

  • Imminent Threat
  • Amber Alert
  • Presidental

Wireless Emergency Alerts look just like text messages. They can't be more than 90 characters. The message will state the type of threat, time of the alert, and any action that you should take. The Hawaiin Alert stated there was an inbound missile and to take immediate shelter. The alert is designed to get your attention, it has a unique sound and vibration that will repeat twice. Most people are never very far from their phones so this alert system is very effective.

WEAs are not affected by network congestion and will not interrupt calls, texts, or data being used. Moblie users will not be charged for WEAs. There no need to subscribe. Ask your cell service if your phone can receive WEAs. Instant mobile alerts might be the first warning of a major life-threating event.

FEMA offers an online training course in the Public Alert System. This course will provide an introduction to the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). It will also go over actions that should be taking during the public, before, during, and after an emergency. Most kids have a cell phone of some kind they should understand emergency alerts and know what to do when one comes. FEMA provides training material for children and teachers. Take some time to explain the Emergency Alert System to your children. Make sure they know what to do during an emergency.

The false alarm in Hawaii may seem funny now, an easy mistake of a miscommunication. But the people who got the alert and ran for their lives didn't think it was very funny. What if there had been a real threat? Was there adequate shelter nearby? Were families separated in the chaos? Would you be ready to run at a moments notice?

Photo Credit: https://www.thedailybeast.com/report-hawaii-official-behind-false-alarm-thought-missile-attack-was-real

Source: https://www.ready.gov/alerts

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