MINNEAPOLIS — Attorney Bob Burns already gets a lot of information from his smartphone, but he welcomes the prospect of getting a little more — free warnings about life-threatening weather from a sophisticated new government system.
As of Thursday, the new Wireless Emergency Alerts system gives the National Weather Service a new way to warn Americans about menacing weather, even if they are nowhere near a television, radio or storm sirens. It sends blanket warnings to mobile devices in the path of a dangerous storm.
At a cafe in downtown Minneapolis, Burns said he was open to getting the unsolicited messages.
“I spend enough time reading junk on my phone that's of no real benefit to me. I might as well read something useful,” the Minnetonka man said.
Thursday was a quiet day for severe weather nationwide, so officials did not expect to send any immediate alerts, said Greg Carbin, the warning coordination meteorologist at the national Storm Prediction Center in Norman.
But in the future, the system will be used to notify people about approaching tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards and other threats. When a warning is issued for a specific county, a text-like message of no more than 90 characters will pop up automatically on the screens of newer smartphones in that area — primarily Android and Windows Phone devices — causing them to sound a special tone and vibrate.
Users do not have to sign up for the service or pay for the message. And people who prefer not to get the warnings can opt out of the system.
“These alerts will make sure people are aware of any impending danger and provide them with the information needed so they can be safe until the threat is over,” said Amy Storey, spokeswoman for CTIA-The Wireless Association.