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Fox News Weather Center

Breaking down emergency alerts: What are they used for?

As an imminent weather threat looms, your smartphone could give you a warning that keeps you out of danger.

On Monday, New Yorkers received a push alert from authorities identifying Ahmad Khan Rahami as a suspect in the Saturday bombing. The Wireless Emergency Alerts system is typically used for AMBER alerts and severe weather notifications.

Monday is believed to be the first time it was used for a manhunt.


Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are government-authorized messages sent to cell phones through your wireless carrier. The alerts are sent without an app or subscription.

Under certain circumstances, the White House can send an alert to a phone that has been selected to opt-out of the alerts.

Lightning illuminates storm clouds over the Philadelphia skyline on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016, seen from across the Delaware River in Camden, N.J. (AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek)

The National Weather Service issues alerts for tsunami, tornado, flash flood, hurricane, typhoon, dust storm and extreme wind warnings.

The alert is sent to phones in the threat area.

"Every WEA-capable phone within range receives the message, just like TV that shows the emergency weather alert. WEA, like the TV station, doesn't know exactly who is tuned in," the Federal Emergency Management Agency said on its website.

To distribute an alert, NWS sends the information to the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). The NWS will highlight the most "critical" alerts in order to get them sent out as an WEA.

It then turns to the commercial wireless carriers to push the alert from cell towers to phones in the designated range.

An alert sent to IPAWS can be sent out through other means such as television, highway displays and radio stations.


Weather apps like AccuWeather also work with government agencies around the world to distribute important weather alerts.

AccuWeather has the ability to send information from the NWS but also issue earlier alerts to make sure people are prepared and aware of weather threats.

Alerts from AccuWeather are often ahead of any other major provider when hazardous weather conditions unfold.

Through the AccuWeather app, users can also subscribe to alerts in multiple locations.

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