In this day and age, you know cell phones can do pretty much everything.
Now, they're becoming a tool to alert you of an emergency, as part of a federally-mandated service.
Your cell phone plays plenty of sounds, but have you ever heard a loud emergency tone coming from your handheld device and wondered what it could be?
"A wireless emergency alert (WEA) is a text-like message that's sent to alert the public of an emergency critical situation in their area," said David Kidwell, product manager for Cincinnati Bell Wireless.
Through some partnerships with federal agencies, as well as local and state agencies, you can get the emergency alerts.
"If you have a WEA-enabled phone, most of the newer ones are at this point, then you are potentially going to start receiving these at some point in the future," said Dave Hatter, FOX19 tech expert.
The alerts are geographically targeted and text-like messages, so you know of threats in your area.
There are three kinds of alerts: Imminent danger, Amber alerts and Presidential alerts.
"Everybody has a cell phone in their pocket. In the case of an emergency or critical situation, that alert can reach you where are, no matter where you are," added Kidwell.
You might think back and wonder if you've ever downloaded anything to get these alerts.
Wireless companies choose to participate in the WEA program, and the ability to receive the alerts are built in by your phone's manufacturer. That's part of the reason why the emergency noise that comes with it is catching people off-guard.
"The first time it actually scared me because I had no clue what it was, and I was just like, 'Whoa. What happened,'" said Brandy Bishop who has received several of these messages.
You do have the ability to turn the alerts off, but not all of them.
"You cannot opt out of Presidential alerts, but the other two alerts, Amber alerts and imminent threat alerts you can by manipulating the settings on your phone," Kidwell told FOX19.
Why can't you turn off Presidential alerts, but can disable the other two?
According to the FCC's Wireless Emergency Alerts guide, in passing of the WARN Act (Warning, Alert and Response Network Act), "Congress allowed participating carriers to offer subscribers the capability to block all WEAs except those issued by the President.
"It does seem a little big brother-ish though that the government can just commandeer your phone and jam stuff into it whenever they want," added Hatter.
The FCC says these alerts will not track your location. However, with any other technology, can these messages be hacked and tampered with?
As far as we know, to this point, Wireless Emergency Alerts aren't vulnerable to attack or being hacked. They haven't been thus far," said Kidwell.
For someone who has received several of these emergency messages, she sees how they could be useful, but wants an opportunity to choose how she receives them.
"I pay for my phone. I pay every month for my carrier for the service, and I feel like I should have a say so in if I want that alert or not or the noise even," Bishop told FOX19.
Cell phone providers are encouraging you to at least give the system a try before you try to disable it.
"As long as you're aware of what the device is capable of, give it a try," Kidwell told FOX19.
To get the alerts, your phone may require a software upgrade. But, not all phones are loaded with the ability to receive WEAs.
You should check with your wireless carrier to see what phones are enabled.
For more information about the Wireless Emergency Alert system: http://transition.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/wea.pdf
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