When Apple released its new operating system for iPhones and iPads this week, it was confirmed that "Government Alerts" capability is included. This is big. With the popularity of Apple's mobile devices, significantly more people in the country will be able to receive alerts through FEMA's Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), also known as Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). I guess "Government Alerts" becomes yet another name for the system which allows local, state, and federal officials to "broadcast" alerts through cell towers to devices in the area equipped to receive CMAS/WEA/Government Alerts. Alerts are sent to targeted geographic areas. Residents don't have to sign up. And, there's no charge.
Alerts will be used for "imminent threats", AMBER Alerts, and emergency messages from the President. Per the law that established the CMAS program, mobile users can opt out of "imminent threats" and AMBER Alerts, but not out of emergency messages from a President. Presumably, the Government Alerts capability in iOS6 would work the same way. The "Notification Center" in iOS6 makes it clear that users can turn off AMBER Alerts and Emergency Alerts, but does not indicate that Presidential alerts cannot be turned off. (No President has ever used ability to send alerts to the nation, even though the capability has existed since the 1950s through the Emergency Alert System on radio and TV.)
Apple's Government Alerts capability is apparently not available to all who have the new iOS6. Macworld says it found Government Alerts settings in the San Francisco area for Sprint and Verizon, but not AT&T. And, Macworld says an informal poll via Twitter showed that some Verizon users in some parts of the country have access to the Government Alerts setting in iOS6 while others do not. This would be consistent with the fact that carriers are still in the process of building out the capability throughout the country.
Meantime, local and state public safety officials continue to apply to FEMA's Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) for authority to use the CMAS/WEA/Government Alerts systems for imminent threats and AMBER Alerts in their areas. Over 60 state and local agencies have been given CMAS/WEA alerting authority by FEMA; another 80+ have applications pending. Local agencies will also need approval from their state. Our web site here contains a ten-minute podcast for local public safety officials to get a high-level overview of the new program, including instructions on receiving alerting authority.
The National Weather Service is already using the FEMA system for certain types of weather warnings (not watches), such as tornado warnings and flash floods. (See earlier post here.)
All the best,