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County prepared to use Wireless Emergency Alert system


October 09, 2013
The Sheriff's Department and the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services will now be able to tap into the federal Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system to reach cell phone users in the event of an emergency. As long as your phone is capable of receiving the alerts and set to "WEA enabled," you don't even have to register to receive the alerts.

"The next time your phone makes that unique tone and vibration, please pay attention," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Greg Cox in a County statement. "It could be an alert telling you how to protect yourself and your family," he said.

Unlike AlertSanDiego, the mass calling system that contacts landlines and registered cell phones, Wireless Emergency Alerts sends out 90 character text messages to all cell phones in a certain geographic area. That way, tourists, residents, and people new to the area will get the emergency notifications, even if they never sign up to get emergency calls with AlertSanDiego.

Nonetheless, Wireless Emergency Alerts are not intended as a replacement for other emergency notification sources, and everyone is still encouraged to register with AlertSanDiego and pay attention to the Emergency Alert System on the television and radio. Wireless Emergency Alerts can only give brief information about the emergency and tell people where to find more information.

Although the County has yet to take advantage of this alert system, the WEA system has already been used by several federal agencies. Most recently, the National Center for Missing and Exploited children used the system to issue an Amber Alert in the Hannah Anderson abduction case. The National Weather Service also uses WEAs to warn of localized flash flooding.

With wildfire season upon us, the WEA system could be especially useful for the Sheriff's Department to warn people in specific areas to evacuate if a fire is quickly spreading toward them.

"Wireless Emergency Alerts are a powerful tool that increases our ability to reach people with timely warnings," Sheriff Bill Gore said.

To learn more about Wireless Emergency Alerts, or to make sure your cell phone is set to receive them, visit www.readysandiego.org/wea.

  1. print email
    October 16, 2013 | 09:00 AM

    Glad to see the outreach to the community. For people who want to sign up for their local emergency system, go to www.usnear.org. Thousands of US counties have some kind of emergency notification service, so this address (www.usnear.org) is a great way to find one page that can get to them all.

    Elena Sinishina
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