Wireless Emergency Alert Issued for Dust Storm

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UPDATE 05/22/14 -- As a dust storm blew into our area on Thursday night, many people found out about it on their phone.

The National Weather Service sent out what is called a Wireless Emergency Alert.

They are used in the same circumstances that an Emergency Alert is issued on TV or Radio.

Read the story below that we ran back in August of 2013


RENO, NV - During Tuesdays wild weather you may have received an unexpected message on your phone alerting you of the danger. It's a new emergency alert system used in Northern Nevada for the first time this week.

The system is set up by the federal government and it's actually been in place for some time, but Monday was the first time Northern Nevadans got alerts.

With people straying away from TV and radio these days, distributing emergency alerts has become a challenge.

"The federal government feels that people are not getting enough information when there is a problem," said Adrienne Abbott, the Nevada Emergency Alert Manager.

The solution? Emergency alerts sent directly to your smart phone. You might have received one during this weeks severe weather.

The National Weather Service (NWS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) created a new nationwide alert system called Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA).

When the cell phone receives the message, a unique ring tone can be heard while the device vibrates.

"Those more serious warnings include flash flood warnings, dust storm warnings, tornado warnings, hurricane warnings, things like that. And so that is what we have seen over the last couple days," said Chris Smallcomb with the National Weather Service.

The new messages are identical to ones that pop up on your TV. Only this time, on a screen you're always watching. Also like television, they are broadcast through antennas to customers in the surrounding area.

Alerts are sent out based on a phones location, not area code.

"As long as the cell phone towers are working, these messages will go through on the towers that are in the areas that are effected by the warnings," said Abbott.

But sometimes it doesn't work perfectly, a warning for Fallon on Monday showed up on phones in Reno.

"Those dust storm warnings are issued for a very large area so they cover a lot of cell towers, so those may get into the Reno Sparks area," said Smallcomb.

The alerts are not limited to weather events, they can also be utilized for amber alerts and presidential messages.

"It's almost like having an emergency manager next to you saying 'hey, you've got a problem,'" said Abbott.

You can opt out of receiving WEA messages by following instructions from your wireless carrier.