If you're like most people, there is one thing you always have with you: Your cell phone. Not only does it connect you with the outer world, but cell phones nowadays can also keep your contacts organized, your calendar current and your Facebook status updated.
Soon, that "must-have" gadget will be working even harder for you. The national emergency alert system is expanding from television and radio to cell phones, keeping you and your family even safer.
Getting text messages and alerts on your cell phone isn't a new phenomenon – some people get breaking news or weather alerts daily – and this new service will work the same way. With its signature beeping sound, the national emergency alert system is easily recognizable. Along with the usual television and radio channels, cell phones will be able to receive these alerts as soon as they are issued.
"I have to have my cell phone with me at all times if I'm gone from the house," says Karin Lane, who often cares for her granddaughter. "I check it every once in a while even while I'm home, so [having the alert system] is a great idea."
The Federal Communications Commission categorizes alerts in three ways: Presidential Alerts, for national emergencies like terrorist attacks; Imminent Threat Alerts for anything threatening life or property like hurricanes and tornados; and Child Abduction or AMBER Alerts.
Emergency management professional Alicia Sanders says that local agencies will have to communicate with national coordinator to make the system work. A special chip will be included in new cell phones so they can receive the alerts with a unique notification sound. Even if you move around, that chip will make it possible to notify only cell phones in the particular area of the emergency. Sanders says that while the alerts will be helpful, they shouldn't be your only source of information during an emergency.
"You always need to rely on your local meteorologist, your local TV station, your local radio, because they're going to give you the best information," she says.
The alert system will be running in New York City and Washington, D.C. by the end of 2011 and will expand nationwide within the next year.
However, you can only get the free national emergency alerts if your phone has the chip in place. A few already have it, and all phones will have it beginning in 2012. That might be a good excuse to cash in on an upgrade for your cell phone next year.
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