Wireless Emergency Alerts / Amber Alerts
By James Pickard
Hey, Hey, Hey, Tis I…. One Armed Bandit…. burning up the keyboard, hailing from the main office of DAC deep in the heart of Moscow, Idaho. I wanted to share with all of you out there in the land of pixels and electrical surges, a webinar on “Clear and Effective Emergency Communications over Wireless Devices” I recently attended. Now I knew that something was coming down the pike eventually, but what I didn’t know is that something already exists. If your like me, you would not know the existence of Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA’s) because your not a techy guru and don’t understand all the functions of modern technology. You would be either setting quietly at home watching a movie or taking your loved one out to dinner and have your memorable experience shattered by the terrible squawk that comes from your phone because of an alert. Now that your heart is out of your throat and back into your chest where it belongs, let me shed some light on WEA’s.
Let’s start with some basic history first. June 2006 Executive Order 13407: Public Alert and Warning System was established. By October 2006 the Warning, Alert and Response Network Act was in effect. Then in 2008 FCC Rules Impacting Accessibility was created and consisted of specific sounds, vibrating cadence, 90 characters, and prohibited embedded resources. In April 2012 the WEA became available to the public. Finally, in 2016 FCC Rules Impacting Accessibility changed the number of characters to 360 and started to include embedded resources like URL’s and phone numbers and added a new alert category: Emergency Governmental Information.
All this ties into the Americans with Disability Act, Title II, SS35.130, which is general prohibition against discrimination. Subsection (a) further describes it as thus: No qualified individual with a disability shall, on the basis of disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any public entity. As well as, SS35.160, general. Subsection (a)(1) which states: A public entity shall take appropriate steps to insure that communications with applicants, participants, members of the public, and companions with disabilities are as effective as communications with others. And subsection (b)(1) that says: In order to be effective, auxiliary aids and services must be provided in accessible formats, in a timely manner.
Okay, history lesson over, let’s get down to how it applies to you! WEA’s are sent to smart phones, doesn’t matter if it is Android or iPhone, they both receive them. So if you are in the same category as 77% of Americans who have smart phones, sooner or later you will receive a WEA’s. I bet your asking yourself, how are the WEA formats accessible?
Well…that’s a good question! The forms of WEA communications are: subscription-based text or email message (opt-in), downloadable app, WEA message (opt-out), and social media feeds. How are they accessible? An individual must be notified in a timely manner of the incoming emergency message or accessible notification signals and be able to access the message. Via text-to-speech, screen reader, translate text into sign language, and be in plain language with no abbreviations or jargon of any kind.
I’m going to share with you how to access the alert settings for the latest versions of Android 7 (Nougat) and for iPhone 10. First Android! Click on your Settings tab scroll to and click on your Sound tab then scroll to and click on your Emergency Broadcasts tab. The Cell Broadcast settings should pop up and you will find several options to use to adjust the WEA’s or Amber Alert settings for your personal needs. Nice!!! Next, iPhone! iPhone is way less complicated to adjust the settings of the alerts. All you do is click on Settings tab then click on Notifications tab and scroll down to the Alerts area. Now you can turn the alerts on or off, your choice. That’s it! Easy peasy!
Since were in this venue, I want to touch on some other cool features that smart phones offer. If your visually impaired Android offers a screen reader called Talk Back and a screen magnifier called Magnification gestures. Both can be found under the Accessibility tab. For the hearing impaired Android has Captioning which is found under the Accessibility tab as well and installed a Pulse Notification Light that is found under the Settings tab. Now iPhone offer these same features but gave them their own unique name. For instance, the screen reader is called Voice Over, the screen magnifier is called Zoom, captioning is Subtitles and Captioning, and lastly they have LED Flash for Alerts. All these nifty applications can be found under the Settings, then click on the Accessibility tab.
I hope that you found this information on smart phones helpful. I know I did when I found out! Remember…A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush!