National Weather Service starts sending alerts to handsets

The National Weather Service on Thursday enabled a system by which it will send severe-weather alerts directly to wireless consumers' handsets. The service is one part of a broader federal alert system that the nation's largest carriers are supporting.

According to a CBS News article, the weather service, which is an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will send subscribers alerts about severe weather in their area, including tornadoes, flash floods, hurricanes, extreme wind, blizzards and ice storms, tsunamis and dust storms.  According to an AP article, officials estimate that 90 percent of the alerts the federal system sends out will be about storms and severe weather.

The system, called Wireless Emergency Alert system, will allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to deliver warning messages to wireless networks from the president of the United States, the weather service and state and local emergency operations centers. The system also supports AMBER alerts for missing children. Customers will receive the warnings when their phones are enabled with special chipsets and software and the warnings are sent based upon geolocation. The system is based on a series of protocols called the Commercial Mobile Alert System, or CMAS, which will provide an interface to participating carriers for delivery of critical alert information to mobile phones.

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) enabled its network to support the system last November. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), T-Mobile USA, U.S. Cellular (NYSE: USM), Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP) and Cellcom also support the WEA system. The Tier 1 carriers announced the plan in May 2011 in coloration with FEMA and the FCC.

Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile now offer the service nationwide. AT&T currently offers it only in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore., but a spokesman told the AP that more markets will be added over time.

For more:
- see this AP article
- see this CBS News article

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