Wireless Emergency Alerts are Now Available in Our Area

Posted at 3:25 p.m.

The Washington, D.C., area, including Fairfax County, is one of the areas where a new Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system is now active. This system provides federal, state and local officials with the ability to send textbased wireless emergency alerts (WEAs) to most mobile phone users in a specific location throughout the United States during an emergency.

You could possibly receive a WEA alert during an emergency. The National Weather Service in Sterling also has the capability to send weather-related messages and may broadcast a WEA message regionally.

There are three types of WEA warnings:

  • Presidential Alerts: Issued by the president in the event of a nationwide emergency.
  • Imminent Danger Alerts: Issued about civil danger, civil emergency message, evacuation, hazardous materials warning, local area emergency, radiological hazard warning,
    shelter in place, etc.
  • Amber Alerts: Issued about the disappearance of minors.

How WEA Works

If an alert is necessary, it will be written in 90 characters or less and then transmitted to cellular providers for dissemination. Because each message will be geo-tagged, it only will be sent to the people who are in the vicinity of the impacted area.* If you receive a WEA, you are within the geographical location being affected by a safety threat. You should review the information in the alert carefully and proceed as directed.
Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)
There may be instances where you are within the targeted geographic alert zone but your phone does not receive the alert. In these cases, your phone may have been receiving its signal from an adjacent area cell site that was not targeted. Most alerts will be re-broadcast several times to reach the maximum number of devices. Once a device has received the alert, it will not accept duplicate or identical alerts.

Is Your Phone Ready for Wireless Emergency Alerts?

If you have an older model phone, you may not receive the wireless emergency alerts (WEA). Check with your service provider to find out if your phone is WEA-capable. AT&T, Cricket, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all have information about the new alert system on their websites. Search for WEA, wireless emergency alerts, CMAS or commercial mobile alert system to find your provider’s list of WEA-capable phones.

To learn more, contact our Office of Emergency Management or your wireless service provider. Additional information is on the FEMA WEA Web page.

* Currently, if an “imminent danger” WEA message is sent by Fairfax County, it will be broadcast countywide.

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11 responses to “Wireless Emergency Alerts are Now Available in Our Area”

  1. Rhonda says :

    How can you get these alerts

  2. John Long says :

    Does this effect CEAN alerts?

    • Fairfax County Emergency Information says :

      Our Office of Emergency Management (OEM) uses CEAN — the Community Emergency Alert Network — to send emergency text and email alerts. These will continue. Plus OEM will have the ability to send these new wireless emergency alerts (WEA), which are in addition to CEAN. The important thing to remember is that you need to sign up to receive CEAN alerts; you will automatically receive WEA alerts, which are sent to mobile phone users in a specific location, as long as you have a newer model phone. You can check with your cellular carrier to see if your cellphone is WEA-capable.