Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Did Your Cell Phone Amber Alert Scare You Too? Here's Some Info


 Last night my TV was having an Amber Alert go off and right after that, my phone went off on it's own Amber Alert.  If I had not seen the TV alert first, I might have gone running, screaming from the room, thinking my phone was going into battery overload and explode.  (Sure, I might have seen way too many sci-fi movies.  What of it?)

But instead, it was just a new wrinkle in our phone technology.

Don't be fooled.  What went off on your phone was not just an Amber Alert.  On my phone, it's called "Emergency Alerts" and it goes off for critically important issues in addition to Ambers. Last night's alert was for a child abduction.  But I also have an older alert in my records for a flash flood warning alert.  So for me, (on my Verizon Motorola Razr M), it's a general alert system.

This alert system was technically started at the beginning of this year (2013) and is from FEMA as part of a nationwide program.

Depending on what region you live in, you might have old messages from Hurricane Sandy in your records.

According to sources, the alerts are limited to 90 characters and you do not get a text message charge for receiving them.  Also, if you want, apparently you can opt out of the program.  Though for the life of me, I'm not sure I see a reason why I'd want to opt out.  For a few reasons.

Like noted earlier, I have alerts for a flash flood warning in my records* and now the Amber Alert.

*I found my records under the folder where all my apps are, under a short cut called "Emegency Alerts."  It may be somewhere different for you.

I had no problem knowing about a potential hazard zone that I'm in. 

Also, if I had a child go missing, I'd be fervently hoping no one opted out so that everyone near and around me would know about my plight and somehow, someone out there I don't know, could help me out.  Hence, since I want the help, if ever needed, I in turn, make myself available to provide the same assistance.

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Now there are issues with the system.  For one, the hour that an alert is transmitted.

Looking around the web, I've seen where folks have grumbled when they learn their phone pushes emergency alerts at 4am, and the like.  I suppose that could rumple my feathers.

Others are just scared when their phone screams at them.  (Once I got up from jumping out of my seat and dusted myself off, I tried to look like I knew what was going on!)

Supporters of the system want to see it used responsibly... which means finding a fine line of a balance between what time alerts go out, versus the emergency.


For me, if a wall of water (flash flood) was hurtling towards me... sure, wake me up at 3am.  I'll let that one slide.  Alien crafts hovering in the sky with death beams lancing out at the ground... I don't know.  Would knowing save my meager little life?  OK, wake me up.  I'd like to at least see this.

Usually, the alerts are regionally driven.  Meaning last night's alert might not have reached Northern CA customers.  But in this case, a man who killed a woman and may have kidnapped a child was suspected of being on the move and they had to deliver the alert in any potential direction he was going.  In this case, the person was suspected of heading to Texas.

For me, sure, it was a scary tone alert, but for a worthy cause if they catch this bastard.

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This emergency alert system is a joint effort between

Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA),

the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Notifications are delivered through the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) program.

They claim one can opt out of receiving these alerts, but the options I've found don't seem to be available on my own phone.  And I dug around in all kinds of places on my phone.  And apps, being as they are, are pretty inconsistent as to where specific settings can be found.

But per sources (CBS News) they say you can opt out:

"mobile phone owners can send the keyword "help" to the short code 26237 (AMBER). To enroll or modify, send the keyword "Amber + 5-digit zip code." To cancel send the keyword "stop." "

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Since this is a relatively new program, the service is on newer phones.  Hence, if you live in a household where someone might update their phone or another person has not, more than likely, only one of them will get the alert.

Early forms of alerts were pretty barren, saying something like, there is an Amber Alert in effect, go look it up.  But last night's alert had good information about the man and his vehicle.

Last night's bleep alert was the first Amber Alert sent in CA.  But there have been 19 such alerts across 14 states since the system's inception.

The fact that this alert startled people and folks are mainly unaware of what this system could do, is a dig against the process, but I'm not sure where.  Should we yell at the news media for not reminding us?  The system admins themselves for not getting the word out better?

Try as one might, no matter what venue one tries to communicate with, most folks won't pay attention unless it impacts them directly, or completely forget about it.

It's hard to find the right way to keep people apprised, so maybe, when they get blasted by a cell phone tone, then they'll learn all about it.

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Footnote:

I'm also betting, since this gave people a good startle, that some may not be aware what happens when you dial 911 on your phone!  The last time I did, it locked my phone out from me while they triangulated my location!

This was a few years ago, and I presume, it might be a bit more advanced and less obtrusive now-a-days.  But hey, expect the unexpected.

If you think about it, your smartphone is nothing less than a small, networked computer.  And yes, I guess it can still make phone calls too.

Good Resource on the Issue: {.wirelessfoundation.org/}
{http://www.missingkids.com/amber/wea}

Other Sources: The Big Story, LAIST,

-Bruce
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Hi - sorry for the confirmation but I need to weed out the noise from the well intended comments. Thanks for leaving a note... - Bruce