Alert and Warning Systems

Written By:

Updated: March 8, 2021


emergency warning systems

Severe weather is just one type of emergency alert or warning you might hear on your television or smartphone

When there is an emergency, whether local or national, do you know how to get the information you need to stay safe? For most of us, weather emergencies and other types of emergency situations are rare occurrences. Having fewer emergency situations is a blessing, certainly, but it also can mean most of us are out of practice when it comes to getting reliable information in emergency times.

Fortunately, there are ways that the government and other local organizations can keep us updated in these situations. Here’s what you need to know.

Emergency Alert Systems

Emergency alert systems are systems designed to get people the information they need about emergency situations. These systems are run through both government and other types of organizations and can cover emergencies ranging from severe weather to child abductions.

Government-Mediated Alert and Warning Systems

As the United States federal government, as well as local governments, evolved, they found they needed ways to reach people in case of emergencies. These systems have adapted and changed based on the technology available for most people across the country. For example, emergency alerts about severe weather or other crisis events started being broadcast over the radio or television. Nowadays, many emergency events and corresponding information is also broadcast via smartphones, as most people are typically within earshot of their smartphones at all times.

There are a variety of organizations that have the authority to push out information regarding emergency situations. For example, the National Weather Service often instigates emergency notification to local areas that are experiencing weather that could turn severe quickly.

Emergency Alert System

The main Emergency Alert System, which is sometimes referred to as the EAS, was originally developed in order to get the American people information from national leaders as quickly and safely as possible. In fact, the goal is to give the President access to communicate to America within 10 minutes. This Emergency Alert System, or EAS, is typically used to alert Americans about hazard events.

EAS broadcasts are pushed to a variety of mediums including broadcast and cable television, AM and FM radio, digital television, digital radio, and more. There is always an attention-grabbing sound or signal followed up with direct information about the event.

The EAS is not just used for national events. It can also be used for local events, such as to inform people about a child’s abduction or severe weather.

Wireless Emergency Alerts

Your smartphone can provide you with details about emergency situations near your location

Thanks to technology evolving, the way emergency information is disseminated has also had to evolve. Wireless Emergency Alerts, or WEA, can be sent from a national level, such as from the President, or from a local level, such as from the National Weather Service to a specific area in danger.

Wireless Emergency Alerts are similar to text messages, but they go out to a wide variety of people within a designated emergency area. Again, there is typically an attention-grabbing sound or vibration so that users are more likely to pick up their device to read the information. You never have to subscribe or opt-in for WEA messages, and the messages do not affect your data plan for your wireless company.

It is common to receive a WEA message regarding severe weather or for an abduction alert. It is also common for people around you, whether in the same restaurant or area, to receive the same alert on their devices as well.

Opt-In Alert and Warning Systems

While you don’t have to opt-in for Wireless Emergency Alerts, you may be invited to opt-in for other types of warning systems. For example, if you are a member of a university or school system, you might be asked if you would like to opt-in for messages about emergencies that apply directly to the university or school system. Or, you might choose to opt-in for messages from your electric provider so that you can be informed of any outages and updates when applicable.

Your township may also have the option for you to download and become a part of their emergency system. This can be helpful not only in emergency situations but also to keep up with any local news that can affect your daily life.

Unfortunately, people can sometimes end up on the list for opt-in services when they would prefer not to be. Remember that in these cases, you have the choice of whether or not you want to receive these alerts, and you should be able to easily cancel your notifications whenever you want. This is especially important to note as these alerts can often affect your wireless plan’s data usage which can end up costing you more money.

Other Alerts and Warning Systems

Finally, if you would like to keep up with specific areas throughout the world, you might consider choosing to subscribe to other warning systems available. For example, you might want to know about emergency weather for the area where your loved one lives or where you keep a second home. You can plug into the National Weather Service or other third-party systems to receive these updates.


It’s important to be prepared for emergency situations, and the first step in that is to know when an emergency happens or could happen. Thanks to a variety of emergency alert systems and technology, the right agencies are able to reach most Americans no matter where they are. You never have to opt-in for emergency alerts that run through federal and local government agencies. Instead, you can receive accurate and up-to-date information right on your radio, television, or smartphone. 

Simply pay attention when you hear that attention-grabbing sound or vibration. Stop what you are doing and listen to or read the message. Remember to stay calm and follow the instructions as they apply to you.

For other opt-in services, such as alerts regarding your school, wireless plan, or specific utility provider, it is still important to read their messages. After all, you chose to get them! You can adapt your routine based on the information they send regarding emergency situations, outages, or usage information.

More Resources

You can learn more about what to do in case of an emergency by visiting This website has information about how to prepare for severe weather, attacks in public places, or other types of disasters. You can get information about how to prepare, what to pack in an emergency kit, and how to stay safe in uncertain situations.

Thanks to technology, you can stay informed and be aware of emergency situations near you. Use this information wisely and respond quickly and appropriately in order to stay safe.