Wireless Emergency Alerts

The Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system is a public safety system that efficiently delivers critical warnings and information to the public via their wireless devices.

Operational since 2012, the WEA provides geographically targeted, text-like alerts utilizing the Cell Broadcast System, across three categories:  Alerts issued by the President; Alerts involving imminent threats to safety or life (fires, floods, hurricanes, etc.); as well as Alerts from the AMBER, Silver, Blue, and Endangered Missing Persons Alert Programs.1

Since its inception, and based on stakeholder experience and technological advancements, there have been continual enhancements to the WEA system to meet public safety needs.  The initial roll-out (WEA 1.0) offered a 90-character text-only message as well as text URLs and phone numbers.  The new version, WEA 2.0, supports 360-character WEA messages, Spanish-language WEA messages, Public Safety WEA messages, Alert Message prioritization and consumer opt-in capabilities for receiving State/Local WEA test messages.

The next version, WEA 3.0, expected by November 30, 2019, will offer improved geo-targeting so that alerts reach the communities directly affected.  In addition, WEA 3.0 requires preservation of alerts for at least 24 hours after the message is received on the mobile device, or until deleted by the user.

When the WEA system was launched, participating wireless providers were required to send the alerts to a geographic area no larger than the county or counties affected by the emergency situation. By November 2017, participating wireless providers were required to transmit alerts to a geographic area that approximates the area affected by the emergency situation, even if it is smaller than a county. For the next evolution in WEA 3.0, participating wireless providers must improve geo-targeting of alerts to deliver alert messages to an area that matches the target area specified by the alert as a circle or polygon with an accuracy level of better than 0.1 mile.

The ATIS Wireless Technologies and Systems Committee (WTSC) has been instrumental in defining the original requirements, architecture, mobile device behavior and more for WEAs and continues to develop enhancements to the existing WEA standards and solutions. The goal of this common set of WEA standards is to enable a consistent user experience regardless of the associated wireless technology or manufacturer of the mobile device. Furthermore, ATIS member companies have ensured a global applicability and roaming support of WEA by specifying the relevant aspects of WEA in 3GPP. ATIS is the North American founding Organizational Partner of 3GPP.

ATIS WTSC has recently completed the development of four critical WEA 3.0 standards necessary for commercial mobile service providers, infrastructure vendors, mobile device OEMs and chipset manufacturers to develop a WEA 3.0 system.

An ATIS webinar on WEA 3.0 is being planned. Date, time and registration information forthcoming at www.atis.org.

1. AMBER Alerts inform the public of serious child abductions in an effort to promote tips and leads to law enforcement. Silver Alerts are designed to notify the public of missing older adults with a documented mental condition. Blue Alerts are designed to speed in the apprehension of violent criminals who kill or seriously wound local, state or federal law enforcement officers. An Endangered Missing Persons Alert refers to alerts for missing persons (of any age) with an intellectual disability.

Farrokh Khatibi, Director of Engineering at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.
Dr Farrokh Khatibi is Director of Engineering at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. Dr Khatibi has been leading the FCC Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability (CSRIC) Emergency Alerting since 2015, and he is currently chairing a number of industry activities, including ATIS WTSC RAN and ATIS IMT-2020 Independent Evaluation Group.