Wireless Emergency Alerts or WEA, began in 2012. It's a service that is used to alert everyone with a wireless phone about emergencies. Whether that be AMBER alerts, weather, or something else. Typically, they are used for AMBER alerts, but earlier this month it was used as a "wanted poster" for a suspect wanted in the bombing of Chelsea, a neighborhood in New York City. It definitely got everyone's attention to look for the suspect, as it was intended to do.
Now the FCC has voted to change up the WEA, at least a little bit. The new rules, which the commission approved today, will allow government officials more room in their messages. Currently, they are limited to just 90 characters, these new rules expand that to 360 characters. Additionally, participating carriers will be supporting embedded phone numbers and links in all alerts. This means that a user could simply tap on a phone number and call that number. Or if we go back to the text message that those in NYC got earlier this month, it could have a link to a picture of the suspect that is wanted. That's not all that's changing though. The FCC is expanding the range of these alerts to "More granular geographic areas". The FCC is also adding Public Safety Messages to the system. Things like a boil water advisory would be sent via text message to everyone in the affected area.
These Wireless Emergency Alerts don't get used all that often – well depending on the area you live in – but they can be very useful. Especially since people always have their smartphone in their hand, but aren't always watching the news. Government officials will be able to get news and other messages to everyone much faster. The Public Service Messages are definitely a great expansion to WEA, allowing those in the affected area to stay on top of what's going on at all times. WEA has done wonders for AMBER alerts, often times finding the missing child much sooner, as you have an entire geographical area looking for the missing child. It has definitely helped bring more children home safer.