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What’s With This New WEA?

We occasionally get a question from a customer or a television station about the new Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) from FEMA. It generally revolves around whether the WEA system will make weather apps like MyWARN obsolete.

The short answer is no.

There are several reasons. But before we go into those, let’s look at what the WEA system is.

WEA is part of the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS). CMAS is an alerting network designed to disseminate emergency alerts to mobile devices such as cell phones and pagers. The Federal Communications Commission proposed and adopted the program back in 2007.

CMAS will allow agencies (including the National Weather Service) to send alerts to participating wireless providers who may distribute the alerts to their customers via text messages. There are three types of CMAS alerts: alerts issued by the President, alerts involving imminent threats to safety of life, and Amber Alerts.

Let’s look at some pros and cons of the system.

The National Weather Service will forward two types of warnings to CMAS: flash flood warnings and tornado warnings.
CON
You will not be able to customize which alerts who receive, so what if you aren’t interested in flash flood warnings. You will not be able to turn them off without turning off tornado warnings and Amber Alerts. (You cannot opt out of a Presidential Message, but hopefully we will never need that.) And what about severe weather watches that are issued a few hours before severe weather is expected? Or the severe weather risk forecasts that MyWARN transmits hours in advance so that you have time to think about where you will be during the day if bad weather threatens? Only custom apps like MyWARN are going to give you that flexibility.

All users who have WEA ready smartphones will just start receiving the messages.
CON
With more and more people carrying smartphones every day, this seems destined to become a critical way to disseminate emergency information to the public. But people have been startled when they got the first alerts. People are more likely to opt out of the system when they receive alerts they didn’t expect or want in the first place, making them less likely to react in the future.

WEAs are only 90 characters long making it just a simple notification.
BIG CON
You can’t communicate much in 90 characters. WEAs are designed to be a broadcast heads up to tell you , says you are within a range and you may or may not be within a path. The image is exactly what you will get when issued an alert, and that is it. No additional information, no links, no maps, no other information sources.

Avoids network congestion
PRO
The WEA system uses cell broadcast technology, meaning that a single message can be disseminated to everyone in range of a cell tower without running into network congestion if lots of people are using their cell phones. This is the valuable part about CMAS. It will eventually be an important part of the alerting process, once it is fully functional and able to deliver alerts to just the people that are in danger. MyWARN already does that.

Carriers only have to target the messages to the county level.
BIG CON
The alerts reach miles and even dozens of miles outside the targeted alert areas!  Only AT&T and Verizon plan to immediately target only cell towers inside the specific alerts. Everyone else will warn everyone who is on a cell phone in the entire county. That’s part of the problem now. The National Weather Service issues precise warnings that cover only people who are in the danger path. These alerts are drawn as geographic polygons. They usually cover a few hundred square miles, while counties cover thousands of square miles. Why warn 150,000 people when the alert only affects 10,000? The WEAs must be designed so they only alert the cell towers in the warnings. And that still we alert some people unnecessarily. Only MyWARN and GPS enable smartphone apps can precise target the people who in the threat.

It is free.
PRO/CON
That’s a good price, but if free doesn’t meet your needs for specific, targeted weather information that could save your life of the lives of your family, that’s not a good value.

Make no mistake, WEA is an important step forward. It will be a critical way for the public to get alerts, if they don’t opt out. WEA is one of many ways you can receive emergency notifications. The other sources include NOAA Weather Radio, news media coverage, the Emergency Alert System on radio and TV broadcasts, social media, and other alerting methods offered by local and state public safety agencies like outdoor sirens and reverse 911 systems.

BOTTOM LINE
MyWARN is a one stop app. It provides you with the notifications you want wherever you are, allow you to get additional information, provides a map, the text of the alert from the issuing agency, details of the warning and will link you to local news partners if applicable, no matter where you are in the country.

WEAs do not provide any additional information. Actually they say seek more details from local media or authorities. Who knows how to do that especially if traveling away from home. The app takes you to local news media no matter where you are in the country.It provides links, maps, precautions to take and ways to view other source that you rely on, such as streaming partners. The WEAs are another way to get notifications and that is it, it just notifies.


The image are a list of the warnings you can expect…besides the WEAs you can expect Amber alerts and Presidential alerts if that is ever needed.  Hurricane, Blizzard, Typhoon, and Ice storm warnings are usually issued days in advance. All of these to cause loss of life or property, but it is not like these develop rapidly with little warning. MyWARN only alerts you when you are directly threatened. No sitting around and waiting. When MyWARN alerts you, it is time to take action. MyWARN also alerts you when the threats updates to you have been cancelled, expired or continued.

A NOAA official has said that many people will opt out of the service , “but I believe it could actually increase the use of your smart app because this will give tons of people a taste of geotargeted alerts, WEAs are not exactly customizable. Many people will desire more alert customization that apps like MyWARN provide, where they get to pick and choose what they are notified for.

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