National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Wireless Emergency Alerts appear as text messages when sent to your mobile device in the case of an emergency. Credit: NOAA.

Updates to Wireless Emergency Alerts include 360-character messages

If your phone has ever alerted you to severe weather in your vicinity by giving off a blaring alarm followed by a text message then you, like many others, have received a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA). This is just one of many ways the National Weather Service (NWS) quickly warns the public when extreme weather threatens. Today, NWS is providing more information in each WEA to keep you out of harm’s way while on-the-go.

New WEA capabilities will include

  • More information to act on. Alerts are now expanded from 90 to up to 360 characters.
  • Expanded language capabilities. WEAs will now include a second information block that supports Spanish language messaging in a single alert. 
  • Alerts will be more targeted to reach those who need it. A new geotargeting feature will allow wireless service providers to better target the alert, so it is only received on phones  within 1/10th of a mile (or 528 feet) of the affected warning area. (Note: The system doesn’t locate individual cell phones. However, if you are traveling and enter an area with an active WEA, you may later receive the WEA.)

*Please note: not all cell phones have these capabilities. To find out if your phone does, check with your wireless provider or phone manufacturer. When checking with your wireless provider, keep in mind that there are three versions of WEA with the following differences:

  • WEA 1.0 allows a maximum of 90 characters.
  • WEA 2.0 allows a maximum of 360 characters in both English and Spanish.
  • WEA 3.0 offers improved geotargeting. Cell phones that are not compatible with WEA 3.0, will still be subject to receiving alerts, which are for a location adjacent to them, but not their actual location.

More about the WEA System

The Wireless Emergency Alert system is a joint effort between the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the wireless industry that allows emergency alerting authorities to geographically target emergency messages to capable mobile devices. Alerts include weather and non-weather emergencies (e.g. civil emergencies), Amber Alerts, and presidential announcements of national emergencies.

For more information about WEA updates, please visit