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Twenty jurisdictions in the National Capital Region are conducting a simultaneous regional Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system test on Thursday, April 5, 2018, between 10 – 11 a.m. Jurisdictions participating in the WEA test include: City of Alexandria, City of Bowie, City of College Park, City of Fairfax, City of Falls Church, City of Gaithersburg, City of Greenbelt, City of Takoma Park, City of Manassas, City of Manassas Park, City of Rockville, District of Columbia, Arlington County, Charles County, Fairfax County, Frederick County, Loudoun County, Montgomery County, Prince George's County and Prince William County.
In the event widespread severe weather or other significant event occurs on April 2, the back-up date for the test is Monday, April 9, between 10-11 a.m. Sulayman Brown (Fairfax County), WEA subcommittee chair, is hosting a call on Thursday, April 5, at 9 a.m. for the jurisdiction administrators of the WEA system to give the green light for the test – PIOs/communication officials should connect with your WEA administrator to learn the outcome of this April 2 conference call.
The National Capital Region’s Emergency Managers Council of Governments is conducting the country’s first live, geo-targeting exercise of WEA of this magnitude - approximately 5.2 million residents and visitors will be in the test area. Each jurisdiction is notifying public safety, law enforcement, private/public sectors partners, public transit officials and the public.
Local government emergency managers need to hear from the public about the test. Individuals are asked to complete a survey at www.mwcog.org/wea to share experiences regarding the WEA test. The survey closes on Friday, April 13.
WEA is a public safety system allowing people who use cell phones and other mobile devices to receive geographically-targeted, text-like messages about threats to safety in their area.
No. Towards the end of 2017, emergency management officials determined exercising the coordination and deployment of a coordinated, regional WEA was needed to ensure the public receives the right information, at the right time, to make the right decisions during an actual emergency.
Periodic testing of public alert and warning systems assesses the system and identifies any needed improvements. Public safety officials need to be sure in times of an emergency or disaster, they have reliable methods and systems that will deliver urgent alerts and warnings to the public. Conducting a regional test supports the continued use, training, and improvement of the WEA system.
There are three types of messages sent through WEA: extreme weather and other threatening emergencies in an area, AMBER alerts, and Presidential alerts during a national emergency.
“This is a test of the Frederick County Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action required.”
WEA includes a special tone (some describe it as quite loud) and a vibration, both repeated twice. A text message also appears on the mobile device.
Authorized national, state or local government authorities may send alerts regarding public safety emergencies – such as evacuation orders or shelter-in-place orders due to severe weather, a terrorist threat or chemical spill – using WEA. The alerts from authenticated public safety officials are sent through FEMA's Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) to participating wireless carriers, which then push the alerts to cell phones and enabled mobile devices in the affected area.
Authorized officials select the coverage area(s) which best match the location of an emergency. All WEA-enabled mobile devices in the target location can receive the alert, even if they are roaming or visiting from another state. In other words, a customer visiting from Richmond or Detroit would receive alerts in Washington, D.C., as long as he/she has a WEA-enabled mobile device in the alert zone.
The public does not sign up to receive a WEA message; it is automatically deployed through the jurisdiction’s WEA system.
Each jurisdiction participating in the exercise will draw their geo-targeted map. We are 100 percent certain cell phone or enabled mobile devices located outside, but near, our jurisdiction will receive the WEA alert because this technology uses carrier towers. Closer to rural areas, bleed over may be significant (up to five miles) and in densely populated areas, it’s less (up to one mile). Officials take issuing a WEA seriously – so if you receive a WEA, follow the protective actions and immediately turn to local news for more details. During an actual emergency officials are committed to providing critical life-saving information; therefore, there is no exclusivity to this responsibility. We want to ensure the safety of the public which means we will communicate as much as possible in as many ways as possible.
It is very likely based on a person’s location between 10-11 a.m. on Thursday, April 5, that he/she will receive multiple WEA messages. For example, a person attends a coffee meeting at 10:00 a.m. in Alexandria, at 10:30 a.m. drives to Arlington and 11:00 a.m. heads to D.C. for another meeting. As a person navigates around the NCR during 10-11 a.m., they will receive multiple messages.
No, if a person’s WEA-enabled cell phone or mobile device is located in the target location, an alert will be received. A person does not sign up to receive a WEA alert.
WEA is a short text message designed to capture your attention – emergency officials currently only have 90 characters for the message. Frederick County sends text messages and/or emails to people who have subscribed at www.FrederickCountyMD.gov/Alerts. Messages sent through Alert Frederick County often include more in-depth details about a critical event.
No. This service is offered for free.
No. A WEA message is broadcast from area carrier towers to mobile devices in the area. Every WEA-capable phone within range receives the message, just like emergency weather alerts you see on local TV. WEA, like the TV station, doesn't know who is tuned in.
According to the FCC, consumers with prepaid phones can receive WEAs as long as their provider has decided to participate in WEA and the customer has a WEA-enabled device. These consumers receive the alerts just as customers with paid, monthly service do.
WEA is one of the many ways emergency officials will communicate with you during an emergency. Other sources include NOAA Weather Radio, news broadcasts, the Emergency Alert System on radio and TV and Alert Frederick County.
There are numerous reasons a person may not receive the WEA test:
Some participating carriers may offer WEA on some, but not all, of their mobile devices. Consumers should check with their wireless carriers to find out if their cell phone is WEA-capable.
Launch the Settings app on your iPhone. Tap on Notification Center and scroll all the way to the bottom. Under the Government Alerts section, toggle the AMBER Alerts or Government Alerts option on or off to enable or disable them.
To review status, go to Settings, click on the More option under the Wireless & Networks section, and scroll down to the Cell Broadcasts settings. Once opened, you will be able to see if disable extreme threats, severe threats, and Amber Alerts are selected.
Cell phones from major manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung and LF receive WEA regardless of where the device was purchased. This is possible because WEA are broadcast from area carrier towers to mobile devices in the area.
When the WEA program launched, participating wireless providers were generally required to send the alerts to a geographic area no larger than the county or counties affected by the emergency situation. As of November 2017, all participating wireless providers are required to transmit alerts to a geographic area that best approximates the area affected by the emergency situation, even if it is smaller than a county.
Beginning November 30, 2019, participating wireless providers must improve geo-targeting of alerts even further.
The FCC offers this guide: http://transition.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/wea.pdf
Contact EmergencyManagement@FrederickCountyMD.gov or call the Division of Emergency Management at 301-600-6790 for more information.