Warning bells went off in the newsroom on Thursday. Not the usual ones about breaking events and looming deadlines, but rather an "Imminent severe alert," about the coming blizzard, that popped up on smartphone screens.
The messages caught everyone off guard, not because they weren't aware of the storm - the Weather Channel made that impossible. Rather, no one realized that their phones could do that, or how, or why. Messages arrived on Android phones and iPhones, T-Mobile and Verizon models. And no, it wasn't from the Weather Chanel app.
Instead the alarms came from the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system, which was set up by the FCC, FEMA and most wireless providers in April, 2012. It includes three kinds of alerts - messages from the President, warnings about "severe man-made or natural disasters" and AMBER Alerts about missing children.
The system incudes the big four providers - AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile - as well as smaller companies such as Cricket and Bluegrass Cellular. All told, those companies account for 97 percent of cellphone customers, says CTIA, the industry group of wireless companies.