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What was that strange message over the weekend?

7:26 PM, Mar 3, 2013   |    comments
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St. Louis (KSDK) - Thousands of people in the St. Louis area are talking about a strange message that popped up on their cell phone this weekend. It was about an AMBER Alert issued for a young girl missing from the Springfield, Missouri area.

It's called the Wireless Emergency Alert system and people here are wondering why and how it showed up on their phones.

Cell phone user Megan Abbott saw the message Saturday afternoon and didn't know what to think.

"I wanted to make sure it wasn't spam or anything and make sure that it was actually happening because it didn't have NewsChannel 5 or any other news source at the top," said Abbott.

And these wireless emergency alerts never will. That's because they're generated by a partnership between the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and a number of cell phone providers including AT&T, Sprint and Verizon.

The system rolled out nationwide last April and is designed to increase public safety.

Many cell phones users have asked "How did I get signed up for these alerts?" The answer is: you didn't. All Wireless Emergency Alert-capable phones will automatically receive the messages for free.

According to a Youtube video by CTIA, a non-profit wireless association, there are three classifications of messages.

"There are presidential-level alerts," said Brian Josef, CTIA's Assistant Vice President of Regulatory affairs. "Then there are imminent threat alerts. And those can be natural or man-made disasters that threaten life and property. And then there are wireless AMBER Alerts. These are law enforcement working to locate and recover missing children."

The alerts are localized and aimed at phones in counties that could be affected by disasters or AMBER Alerts. And people seem to like that idea.

"It's good to know what's happening in your community," said cell phone user Monica Ewing-O'Leary. "Would I want them from everywhere? No."

"It really engages more people," said Abbott. "Because if you're not seeking out that information you're not getting it. So by reaching everybody, more people can be involved and thankfully the little girl was found safely. So obviously the large range of audiences worked."

Wireless customers can choose to opt-out of the AMBER Alert and imminent threat alerts by contacting their wireless provider.

Not all wireless devices are compatible with the Wireless Emergency Alert system. Check with your wireless provider for a list of compatible devices. 

Click here for answers to frequently asked questions about the Wireless Emergency Alert system.

KSDK

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