IPAWS - Wireless Emergency Alerts
What is a Wireless Emergency Alert?
Wireless Emergency Alerts, or WEA, are sent through the National Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, or IPAWS. In Berrien County, this is the primary system we use to alert the community of emergencies that are:
- Urgent - Protective action needs to be taken immediately, or soon (within an hour).
- Severe - The emergency is causing an extreme or significant threat to life or property.
- Certain - The incident and danger has to be either observed, meaning someone has seen it occurring, or it is likely, meaning there is a reasonable cause to believe it is more likely than not.
These messages are sent using the cell carriers towers to alert phones and some other capable devices like sign boards, smart watches, tablets, and other services that communicate with the cell towers. Most people will receive these alerts using modern WEA capable cell phones. More devices are being developed that can use the wireless emergency alerts even if they are not a cell phone.
Depending upon the phone carrier's network, the message that accompanies an attention-getting tone, may be limited to either 360 characters or 90 characters. Those receiving an alert are encouraged to tune into broadcast stations that are listed in our EAS pages.
How Do I get Alerts?
The primary way we use this system is to send the WEAs to modern cell phones. Many phones can be alerted, and can call out to 9-1-1, even if they do not have active paid service. In any case, the device needs to be turned on, and communicating with a tower. Further, the settings for receiving an alert must be turned on. This is basically how you "sign up" to get these type of alerts.
Each model of phone has a different way to turn these alerts on. We recommend doing an internet search for advice, contact your service provider's customer service hotline, or visit an authorized dealer's store for help on how to turn these alerts on.
When we send out an alert, we define the area that is in danger. We usually will make the area as big as possible to make sure we alert those who are not only in the area of danger, but also those moving toward it. Most disasters will result in us alerting the entire County unless it doesn't make sense to do so. When your device enters the "danger" area we drew on a map, if you have WEA enabled, it will go off if our alert is not expired. With this feature, it is no problem if you were far away from danger when we sent the alert out; you will still get it if you come close to the area we defined while the alert is active.
Are there times I might Not Get the Alert?
- Your device isn't capable or WEA isn't turned on. (Call your phone provider for advice).
- Your device may not have been programmed to do two things at once. Some models won't alert you if you are on a phone call or data usage is active (like streaming a video or surfing the web). Some models have no problem with this. Test this out when we send test messages out by deliberately making a call or surfing when our test window is open (First Friday between 3PM and 4PM).
- Your device may have been connected to a tower site that was not in the danger zone. We try to define the danger zone larger than it actually is to overcome this without being unreasonable in the number of people being disrupted. Sometimes in really rural areas with further distance between tower sites, this can happen to those on the outer fringe of the area being alerted. It is not common however.
- Your device wasn't in tower range or had poor coverage.
Do I have to be on My Carriers Network?
No. WEA is enabled to roam onto your carriers' competitors towers.
If I travel away from Berrien County, Will I get an alert?
If you travel to an area where they use IPAWS, you will get alerts for that area. As an example, if you live in Berrien County and you travel to Chicago, you will get emergency alerts if Chicago sends one out. While you are there, if we send one out for danger at your home, you will not get the alert (because your device isn't physically in the danger zone).
If you want to receive alerts for locations in Berrien County while you are not here, like for your home, work, school, or a family members house; then sign up for B-WARN!. It will alert your device to let you know that a certain location is in danger; even if you aren't there. This is one of the major reasons we encourage everyone to sign up for B-WARN! and enable WEA on their phones. They compliment each other well and serve as a backup to each other because they use different technologies to get alerts to you.
Is it Tested?
Test alerts may require an additional step on your device to turn test alerts on. The ability to toggle test alerts on/off is often "hidden" in the settings of the device and may require a little more research to figure out how to enable them.
Beginning JAN 01, 2021, we test the WEA system on the first FRIDAY of the MONTH at 3:00 PM Eastern Time.
What if I don't Have a Cell Phone?
Check out the other ways we send out emergency alerts.
After you research all of the ways we send alerts, if you still believe you would not be alerted to an emergency through at least one of the alerting methods listed on our website, you should visit the Alerting People with Additional Needs Page to learn more.
Major Carrier Resources
Below, we are providing links to pages made by the major cell providers related to WEA as a convenience. We do not endorse any carriers service over another. We are only providing these links as a matter of convenience to those representing the biggest portion of the consumer marketplace.
- ATT WEA
- Verizon WEA FAQ
- Apple Devices
- New Procedure for Opting-In to WEA Tests on Apple Devices: Mobile phones ship from the manufacturer with the test option turned off. In May 2022, Apple changed the procedure for opting-in to tests, for devices running the latest versions of its operating systems. This new procedure involves downloading and installing a software component, then turning on an alert option in the device settings. Devices running older versions of the OS use a prior procedure. Both are explained in the Apple support document About emergency and government alerts on IPhone and Apple Watch.
- Android Devices (Topic 1) Android (Topic 2)
- Window Central blog for Windows Phones (Was easiest to understand out of what we found)
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