The 5 W’s of Wireless Emergency Alerts

We’ve all used notifications on our phones for text messages and email. We want to be notified when someone is reaching out to us, and have configured our phones to notify us in the way we want (ringer, vibration, home screen, etc.).

There is another category of notifications for when the authorities want to reach out to us: Wireless Emergency Alerts.

What are WEAs?
Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are mobile messages sent through mobile carriers to phones to warn of potentially life-threatening emergencies. WEA messages are up to 90 characters and show the time and type of alert, the issuing party, and actions to be taken.

Why are they needed?
Distribution of emergency alerts was historically limited to broadcast television and radio. The widespread use of mobile phones has created a new channel to reach people for whom an alert may be relevant.

Who can send them?
WEA technology originated in the United States, where emergency alerts can only be sent by approved government alerting authorities for the following:

  • Imminent threats to life and property alerts
  • AMBER alerts
  • Presidential alerts

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will explore the possibility of using the system to alert Canadians in the event of:

  • Extreme weather
  • Emergencies involving crime
  • Environmental and industrial emergencies

When will WEAs be available in Canada?
The system has been operational in the United States since 2012, and tests are underway in Canada. The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, which represents wireless carriers, has stated that they believe the alert system participation should be mandatory for all Canadian wireless carriers, with hopes to have the system fully operational in two years.

How do they work?
WEAs are delivered via wireless mobile carriers’ cellular towers. Users will know they have received an emergency alert via specific tone, vibration, and on-screen


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