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ANY QUESTIONS: How do Amber Alerts work on cellphones?

Thursday, February 20, 2014 | 8:18 p.m. CST; updated 2:11 p.m. CST, Friday, February 21, 2014

Have a question about goings-on around town? This is part of a project called "Any Questions?" that takes on community curiosities and tries to address them. Submit your questions to submissions@ColumbiaMissourian.com or by using the form below this story.

After Tuesday's Amber Alert, members of our newsroom were wondering how Amber Alerts work — specifically, how they work on cellphones.

Why am I receiving alerts on my cellphone?

We noticed that even people who had not subscribed to any sort of alert system received a notification, and iPhones that received the message emitted loud, siren-like noises, too.

The alerts are not text messages, even though some looked like it. They are also not part of any monthly plan. Rather, they are sent through the Wireless Emergency Alerts program.

This program was created in partnership among the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and CTIA, a telecommunications trade organization.

There are several different types of alerts you might get:

  • Amber Alerts
  • Extreme weather warnings
  • Local emergencies that necessitate evacuation or immediate action
  • Alerts from the president during a national emergency

You can unsubscribe from any of these notifications except presidential alerts.

What is the process for sending alerts?

The alerts are sent like radio messages through cellphone towers to a geographic area, rather than individual phones, according to CTIA's website. 

Missouri is broken into nine geographic areas based on each of its highway patrol troops, said Lt. John Hotz of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The alerts may be sent to one region, multiple regions or even multiple states.

Because these alerts are not specific to individual phones, if you were to travel to another part of the country, you would receive alerts for the region you are visiting.

The highway patrol submits information to the Amber Alert portal, then FEMA authorizes the alerts and sends them.

These are the cellphone providers that participate in the alert system:

What should I do once I get an alert?

If you have information related to an alert, Hotz said, contact the highway patrol or local law enforcement agencies.

If you are interested in getting more information about the alert, you can visit the Amber Alert website.

How do I unsubscribe from the alerts?

It depends on the cellphone and wireless provider.

For iPhones, there is a table of government alerts in the "Notification Center" settings.

For some Android phones, it's under "Messaging App Settings."

Your wireless provider can give more information for other phones.

Supervising editor is Shaina Cavazos.


 

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