The emergency alert system needs some work

The sound of silence1 - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

Two weeks ago, I was awoken at 3:00 a.m. by three out of the five Android phones that were in the room hooting and whooping the emergency alert system (EAS) warnings, blasting at top volume. The warning at the time was for a potential flood in a city 40 miles away from me, and the phones would scream every 15 minutes to let me know the potential weather was an hour away with no obvious way to disable the warnings, other than shutting off the phones.

Last night, I was woken up by a tree limb hitting my house and a portion of what I believe to be a sign from a gas station several blocks away wobbling in my front yard, producing spooky noises. I heard a noise like a freight train, looked at the phones I could, and tried to figure out what was going on. Both had an alert on, but neither was making any sort of noise. There was just a little text box warning that said “seek shelter now,” or equivalent.

An EF2 tornado (111-135mph winds) touched down 12-15 miles north of me. Winds were over 60mph in my area, 18-wheel trucks were overturned just sitting in parking lots, and I got to sleep in because my phones decided to not make noise this time. I also discovered that my CyanogenMod-based phones don’t have EAS built in, which seemed a safe assumption, but last night seemed to prove it.

I wasn’t the only one who slept in. So far this morning, I’ve got tales of three unrooted (and one rooted) phones on Sprint’s network that made no noise during this, but did hoot all night for a potential flood many, many miles away. So far, I’ve heard audible EAS alerts for floods that didn’t happen, freezing rain that didn’t happen, and nothing for the tornado that did happen. While in my case the freight train noise was actually a freight train, people in Mt. Juliet, TN, were not so lucky.

I’m not sure why the alarms were silent for an actual night time emergency, but it’s kind of absurd to be woken for nothing weeks back and allowed to sleep through a tornado/storm in which people died.

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Paul E King

Paul King started with GoodAndEVO in 2011, which merged with Pocketables, and as of 2018 he's evidently the owner. He lives in Nashville, works at a film production company, is married with two kids. Facebook | Twitter | Donate | More posts by Paul | Subscribe to Paul's posts

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18 thoughts on “The emergency alert system needs some work

  • Avatar of Paul E King
    January 30, 2013 at 9:08 am
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    I’m told iPhones on Sprint went off as 3 loud annoying beeps.

    Why did the EVO 4G LTE, EVO 3D, an old EVO 4G on wifi and a Samsung Galaxy S3 at different locations not make a peep is the question

    Reply
    • Avatar of Paul E King
      January 30, 2013 at 9:28 am
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      I’m also told that at least one iPhone running 6.0 was not making noise or even giving an alert.

      So, some people got an audible, some people got text, some people got nothing.

      Reply
  • Avatar of Jason B.
    January 30, 2013 at 9:50 am
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    I’m thinking there’s a lot behind the scenes to this new technology that we’re just starting to see roll out. They might have different protocols for the type of alert (especially if Apple has a say, then it might alert differently) as well as who is entering the alert into the system checking the right box for type of message.

    I know that in NYC during Hurricane Sandy, it worked as it is supposed to. When the storm surge was hitting, a “Shelter in Place” went out. Also leading up to it warnings about the evacuation of Zone A in NYC went out. It really is regional still at this point.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Sam
    January 30, 2013 at 10:31 am
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    Paul,
    I’m in Hendersonville, TN. My phone (evo 3d) went off around 3 AM. Three loud beeps notifying me via text. Same as the iPhone mentioned above? Maybe a network glitch, but sounds more like an overall alert system issue.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Da
    January 30, 2013 at 10:47 am
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    Emergency Alert System – Never heard of that. Is it an American thing? Who’s responsible for it? The providers or some federal institution?

    Reply
    • Avatar of Paul E King
      January 30, 2013 at 11:06 am
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      http://transition.fcc.gov/pshs/services/eas/

      The EAS is a national public warning system that requires broadcasters, cable television systems, wireless cable systems, satellite digital audio radio service (SDARS) providers, and direct broadcast satellite (DBS) providers to provide the communications capability to the President to address the American public during a national emergency. The system also may be used by state and local authorities to deliver important emergency information, such as AMBER alerts and weather information targeted to specific areas.

      Reply
      • Avatar of Da
        January 30, 2013 at 11:32 am
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        Hm. Interesting concept. Thx for the link!

        Reply
  • Avatar of GregL
    January 30, 2013 at 10:53 am
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    I don’t have an answer as to why your EVO LTE didn’t make a sound. But I want to share than my EVO LTE make the exact same loud alarm that my wife’s iPhone 4S made at the exact same time of the “morning”, 3am. It was strange to wake up to that sound since I had never heard it before, but I’m glad it went off. We checked the weather via our laptop (since Comcast cable was out and only showing CSPAN) and had time to get upstairs and get the kids up. All in all for us the system worked beautifully.

    Again, not sure why yours didn’t work. Maybe a phone setup? But I guess not likely since you said several of your devices didn’t work.

    My EVO LTE is running MeanBean 2.3 with nothing added or installed other than that rom. (theme or whatnot)

    Reply
    • Avatar of Paul E King
      January 30, 2013 at 11:00 am
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      MeanBean,South Nashville (Nolesnville/Thomson intersection).

      Wife’s untouched EVO 3D which went off in the past two events had a text box, no sound. Mine had a text box, no sound. Friend of ours Eric on iOS 6/iPhone 5 had no alert, he lives about a mile east of us.

      Friend with the GSIII lives pretty close to the Walmart at Nolensville and Harding. Text box warning, but not audible.

      Another friend on an iPhone (not sure which) said she had 3 loud beeps – this would be closer to the Nipper’s corner area.

      Trying to figure out if it was just the Nolensville road towers

      Reply
  • Avatar of Aaron Orquia
    January 30, 2013 at 11:26 am
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    My unrooted NExus 4 on T-Mobile showed the alert, but didn’t make any sounds because it was in silent mode. My classmate’s Galaxy S III did sound an alert, but it too is stock. I’m surprised that CyanogenMod doesn’t include emergency alerts, it seems like something everyone would have.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Jordon M
    January 30, 2013 at 11:33 am
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    My parents’ and my iPhone on Sprint go off when Amber alerts are issued, and they play no matter what volume setting the phones are on. This is in the Dallas area (Carrollton) in Texas, but we have yet to get any alerts based on weather. Very strange.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Paul E King
    January 30, 2013 at 2:07 pm
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    Getting reports from a lot of peeps in Nashville – some areas and some phones went off with alarms. people in my area seemed to get no audio warning. That would be 5 miles south of me go audio, 20 miles north too.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Capt4Chris
    January 30, 2013 at 10:03 pm
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    I live 3 miles south of Broadway downtown & I didn’t get any warning on my Evo 4G LTE running CM10. Was keeping an eye on my phone too because I heard about the bad weather incoming.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Casey
    January 31, 2013 at 7:46 am
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    I have an Evo 4g LTE running Mean Bean and I live in Houston. So far the only alerts I ever get are amber alerts for kidnapped kids and missing elderly. When I’m in the office everybody’s phone goes off at the same time no matter what phone they have or what carrier.

    I can see this being good for waking me up in an emergency weather situation but I see amber alert signs every few miles on my way to work. I dont need it on my phone.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Matt
    February 3, 2013 at 5:46 pm
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    Are the alerts you are getting through the text message system? there is a setting for those, Menu -> settings -> Emergency Alerts where you can turn on/off those by severity. You might look at those settings on each device and see if they are the same or different.

    Reply
  • Avatar of K-Man
    February 7, 2013 at 6:37 pm
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    I can tell you that most folks I know on other carriers have reported CMAS alerts in the Boston area for Nemo the blizzard. I have 2 EVOs on Sprint, 1 bone stock the other stock rooted. All alerts are turned on (I checked) and so far nada. Most folks (Verizon mostly) got their alerts around 4pm, perhaps mine will come through at 4am because Sprint loves their customers so much.

    Reply
    • Avatar of K-man
      February 8, 2013 at 6:26 am
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      A call to Sprint was first met with confusion as I got someone on the phone who was not trained or aware of the CMAS system or what it was. I got advice to download a weather app. Upon insisting that CMAS was indeed a real thing I was transferred to tech support (which I had dialed in the first place). Tech support checked my logs (I assume) and found that not alert messages were sent to either of my phones. I emphasized my distress with not being alerted when FEMA had clearly issued a severe alert for my geographic location but again was met with shrugged shoulders.
      In the past my experiences have been similar to yours, I have received CMAS alerts for coastal flooding although I am at least 15 miles inland. I recall the old EBS for television system being a huge cluster, I imagine their next generation IPAWS is just as messed up and this is just another example of it not working. God forbid if there’s an actual emergency, I suppose I’ll have to rely on Verizon customers nearby for survival.

      Reply

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