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Cell Phone Alerts Include Weather Emergencies

Buffalo, NY (WBEN) - For many people across Western New York, an alarming tone coming from cell phones came as a shock.

A Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) was sent to notify the public of an Amber Alert triggered by a missing teen outside of Rochester, but as some already know, it's not just Amber Alerts that the government is using your phone to broadcast.

"What we've done for many, many years is we've sent out certain types of warnings," said David Zaff of the National Weather Service. "That might be a severe thunderstorm warning, or a tornado warning or a flash flood warning. What FEMA is doing, is they partnered with a number of cell phone companies to re-disseminate that information in a very short text for certain new cell phones."

The result is a WEA message, nearly identical to the one sent out on the Amber Alert, that warns people of immediate weather emergencies.
GREECE, N.Y. (AP) - An upstate New York teenage girl whose disappearance sparked an Amber Alert has been arrested.
Police in the Rochester suburb of Greece say 16-year-old Cassidy Geffert was arrested on a charge of fourth-degree grand larceny.

Geffert was found unharmed Monday in the Brockport area about 15 miles west of her home after an Amber Alert was earlier in the afternoon by New York State Police. It said the girl was taken from a Greece residence around 10 a.m. Monday.
What makes a weather emergency? The National Weather Service can send warnings of tsunamis, tornados, flash floods, hurricanes, typhoons, dust storms, and extreme wind. Zaff says that the National Wether Service in Buffalo will only send warnings about flash floods and tornados.

"The important part of it is we want to alert the public for the most critical, life-threatening situations, and a flash flood and a tornado are clearly up there. We could issue one for blizzard warnings, but that's a longer lived event and we don't want to over-warn the public."

The types of alerts you receive could easily change though.

The alerts spread using local cell towers, meaning that even if your number is a 716, if you're in another part of the country you will only receive an alert if severe weather is in your current location. "You could be traveling to Tennessee for example, and if the Tennessee office issued a flash flood warning and you're in that location, you're going to get alerted, which is good because that's a life-saving property."

06/24/2014 12:04PM
Cell Phone Alerts Include Weather Emergencies
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