Mobile devices can receive free emergency alerts starting next week

Sunday, June 17, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:45 p.m. CDT, Sunday, June 17, 2012

COLUMBIA — Mobile phone users nationwide will soon have the option to receive free text alerts about severe weather and other emergencies from government agencies.

The National Weather Service office in St. Louis will send out wireless emergency alerts for severe weather to mobile phones in Boone County and other parts of the St. Louis forecast area, according to the regional office's website.

To determine whether your mobile device is capable of receiving the alerts, click here or contact your wireless carrier. You can also use both options to opt out of receiving these wireless emergency alerts.

A typical hazard weather alert will have a headline along with information about the incident's time parameters and a reminder to avoid travel or to take shelter.

Alerts will include warnings for weather events such as tornados, flash floods, extreme winds and blizzards. The types of messages offered will likely expand in the future, said Fred Glass, a meteorologist with the weather service in St. Louis.

Glass said each message will likely be a generic alert less than 90 characters long.

"It won't tell you details," he said. "It just prompts you to look for more information from local media and authorities."

Glass said the alerts should very rapid. "After entering a key on a computer, the messages will be automatically sent out."

People can receive the messages no matter where they are, as long as their wireless carriers participate in the program, Glass said. 

Other types of mobile alerts include information about local emergencies requiring evacuation or immediate action, Amber Alerts and presidential alerts during national emergencies.

These messages will originate from local and state public safety agencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Homeland Security. 

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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