You are not alone, if an alert from your cell phone or tablet computer woke you up in the middle of the night. These new alerts - which you likely did not sign up for - were sent via the new Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system.
The CTIA industry group describes the system this way:
"Wireless Emergency Alerts, also known as the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) or Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN), are notifications sent by authorized federal, state, local and tribal government agencies that alert customers with capable devices of imminent threats to safety or an emergency situation, such as a weather event or a missing child. The messages are intended as a supplement to the existing Emergency Alert System, which broadcasts alerts over radio and television. Wireless Emergency Alerts were implemented in response to the WARN Act passed by Congress in 2006.
The messages are secure and can only be initiated by public safety entities that have been certified to send the alerts.
There are three types of Wireless Emergency Alerts:
Presidential Alerts – Alerts issued by the President or a designee;
Imminent Threat Alerts – Alerts that include severe man-made or natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc., where an imminent threat to life or property exists; and
AMBER Alerts – Alerts that meet the U.S. Department of Justice's criteria to help law enforcement search for and locate an abducted child.
Participating carriers are required to begin deploying Wireless Emergency Alerts in April 2012. However, these alerts might not be immediately available in all markets. To confirm Wireless Emergency Alerts are available in your area and your device is capable of receiving the alerts, please check with your carrier."
In order to receive these alerts, you need two things: A newer phone certified as being WEA capable and a carrier that is fully participating. To find information about your carrier, click here. You can choose to opt out of certain alert types.
For information about implementation in Wisconsin, click here. (Adobe Acrobat Reader required to view this PDF)
The WEA system is not a replacement for this station's free text alert services, which include a wider variety of options for the types of messages you receive, from various severe weather and school closing alerts to breaking news and mobile marketing clubs. This station's text alerts are also available for a wider range of devices, than are the alerts produced by the WEA system. Our policy is also to avoid issuing most alert types during the overnight hours, with the exception of tornado warnings and other imminently life-threatening situations.