Thursday, August 02, 2012

A Surprise Text Service Pops Up On Phones

Yesterday's downpours weren't unexpected in the region.  It was pretty well talked up and talked about for a few days.

However, the text that some Verizon and AT & T subscribers picked up yesterday afternoon and evening stating that any one location was under a flash flood warning or severe thunderstorm warning was a bit of a surprise.  That may have been because the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) could have "unofficially" debuted today on several mobile carriers in parts of the Philadelphia region.

CMAS is a partnership between FEMA and the FCC to deliver warnings to the public via text messaging.  There are a number of different types of alerts -- from Presidential alerts (which users apparently cannot remove) to extreme emergencies, severe weather, and amber alerts.  The latter alerts can be user controlled. Alerts are limited to just 90 characters and will detail limited information (i.e. flood warning, tornado) over a different ring tone and vibration to that of standard texts from your BFF or whomever.  Unless a text from them, this alert will pop up on your phone screen.

The service is on a voluntarily basis until 2014 -- not voluntary on your end to receive them...voluntary on the end of the cell phone provider to participate.  The system began in April and is being phased in gradually.

However, the service, as NOAA's John Ferree told the Inquirer, is subject to some growing pains due to cellular tower placement and the geographic nature of warnings.  That...and the lack of warning that the service was coming.  You would think FEMA and the cellular carriers would have provided that service before throwing emergency alerts all over the phone to unsuspecting users.

T-Mobile, my provider, is not on the list so I wasn't dinged with texts yesterday when my area was placed under Flood Warnings.   Friends that I talked to who are AT & T and Verizon customers informed me that there was no "informational" text or alert sent out saying that the service was live or operational prior to the warnings showing up on their phone today.

Ferree noted that the problem is known and is being worked on.