Alerts & Notifications

Myths about CMAS Dispelled

As CMAS alerts launch soon, misconceptions have developed. This post dispels the myths.

by Rick Wimberly / March 19, 2012
As the time quickly approaches when alerts through the long-awaited Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) will be reality, some misconceptions are circulating.  In a two-part post with the AWARE Forum, Liz Trocki presented key facts in an effort to dispel myths stemming from misconceptions about the CMAS program.

Myth 1: CMAS is part of the Federal Government’s plan to install a tracking chip in our cell phones.
Fact: There is no “CMAS chip.” CMAS alerts will be distributed to the public through Cell Broadcast (CB) technology. CB technology allows a wireless carrier to send a single message to a specific cell tower (or towers). The towers then broadcast the message one way to cell phones within the area that are capable of receiving the message. An alerting authority will be able to initiate the broadcast, and the message will go to all phones within a geo-specific location, regardless of a user’s wireless carrier. The message originator has no way of identifying which phones in a given area have received the message. Note: not all cell phones in the U.S. can receive CMAS messages, but many can.  

Myth 2: CMAS alerts are text messages – just like the text messages I already receive on my cell phone.
Fact: CMAS alerts will be disseminated using CB technology, which differs from the SMS technology used to send and receive text messages. SMS technology is a point-to-point technology where two users exchange texts one at a time. On the other hand, CB technology is a point-to-area technology where a single message is transmitted by a cell tower to all CB-capable cell phones within range of that tower. CMAS alerts will have a special tone or vibration cadence that’s different from the phone settings for incoming SMS text messages.

Myth 3: CMAS alerts will jam cell phone lines during emergency events.
Fact: Because CMAS relies on CB technology, it is not impacted by traffic loads and CMAS alert messages will not get hung up or delayed the way text and voice calls sometimes do.

CB technology operates differently from SMS and voice services and is not subject to the same traffic loads. Plus, CMAS alerts will not interrupt or disconnect a call in progress; devices will not display the text, tone, or cadence of a CMAS alert message until a previous call has ended.

Myth 4: I’ll be charged by my wireless carrier for CMAS alerts.
Fact: Section 602(b)(2)(C) of the Warning, Alert, and Response Network (WARN) Act prohibits wireless carriers who elect to transmit CMAS alert messages to “impose a separate or additional charge for such transmission or capability.” Additionally, as it is impossible for wireless carriers to identify the individual recipients of a CB message, it would impossible for them to charge for a CMAS alert.

Myth 5: Once CMAS is deployed in April 2012 all cell phones in the U.S. will be able to receive CMAS alerts.
Fact: Many of the newer phones shipped in the last year or so are programmed with CB technology, and only those phones programmed with CB technology can receive CMAS alerts.  However, it will take time for CMAS-ready phones to saturate the market.  Check with your wireless carrier to determine if your cell phone can receive CMAS/WEA alerts, and then check your phone to make sure the feature is enabled.  

Myth 6: CMAS will provide all information I need during an emergency event and will take the place of all my previous sources of emergency information.
Fact: CMAS is just one more medium through which you can be alerted to an emergency event. CMAS alerts are limited to 90 text characters, which obviously limits the amount of information that can be transmitted. While Alerting Authorities will be trained in how to craft messages that are as informative as possible within space constraints, the primary purpose of CMAS is to simply provide the ability to alert our increasingly mobile population in the event of an emergency. Upon receipt of an alert or warning, it is likely that most users will seek further information or clarification from other sources, such as TV, radio, Internet, or SMS-based subscription services, (like county or campus-based alerting services).  

Myth 7: CMAS alerts will all come from the Federal Government.
Fact: While a CMAS alert can be issued by the President of the U.S. in the case of a national emergency event, it is expected the majority of CMAS alerts will be issued by local/state emergency managers, local/state police, or the National Weather Service. The key benefit of CMAS is the ability to geo-target specific populations with information relevant to their own safety.

Myth 8: I will not know who is sending a CMAS alert.
Fact: To successfully issue a CMAS alert, a CMAS alert originator must complete a specific set of data fields. One of these required fields is the source of the CMAS alert. Only authorized federal, state, and local authorities will have access to CMAS for the purpose of originating alerts.

Myth 9: I need to download an application or opt-in to a service to receive CMAS alerts.
Fact: The CMAS specification requires that CMAS-capable phones automatically be opted in to receive CMAS messages. Users will ultimately be able to opt-out of receiving CMAS imminent threat or AMBER alerts on cell phones, but there will be no opt-out for receiving a Presidential alert. Because cell phones vary in configuration, the process of opting out of messages may vary from phone to phone.

Myth 10: I’ll be able to get a CMAS alert anywhere in the U.S. once CMAS is deployed in April 2012.
Fact: You will only receive a CMAS alert if your cell phone is located within a geographic area designated to receive a specific CMAS alert. It is also important to note that receiving an alert is dependent upon network coverage, in-building locations, and other “dead spots.” If your phone has no signal, or is turned off, the cell tower will not be able to broadcast the message to your phone.

This is good info.  Please spread it around.