Wireless Emergency Alert system now available to local emergency officials

Alerts first used during Hannah Anderson case

SAN DIEGO - The next time there is an emergency in San Diego, your phone might start making a loud, buzzing sound. It is all part of a federal alert system now available to local emergency officials.

An alarm sound was heard on cellphones across California when the Amber Alert was first issued in the Hannah Anderson abduction case in August. It was the first time FEMA's wireless emergency alert system was used across San Diego County. The shrieking noise was startling and confusing to many, but also extremely valuable.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the Amber Alert led to a successful resolution and the return of Hannah Anderson to her family in San Diego," said San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore.

Holly Crawford, who is with the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services, said, "Unfortunately, FEMA, the FCC and the mobile carriers neglected to do a public education campaign in advance of initiating that wireless emergency alert."

County leaders gathered Monday morning to launch their own campaign. They are hoping a new public service announcement will teach people about the system and encourage them not to disable it.

"We want people to know that this is a life-saving program and we don't want them to opt out of the system when we need to reach them, say, in the event of a tsunami or a fire evacuation," said Crawford.

Now, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and the Office of Emergency Services will be able to use the same system.

There are three separate types of notifications: Amber Alerts, emergency alerts and presidential alerts. Unlike the county's reverse 911 system, you do not have to sign up for it and it does not matter where you live.

"The advantage of this system is it's not tied to a particular address, so if you live in La Mesa and you're at the beach in La Jolla, you can still get the warning," said Crawford.

She says the one disadvantage to this system is that the notifications cannot include more than 90 characters.

If you purchased your phone within the last two years, you automatically will receive the alerts. If you are not sure, contact your provider.

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