State adds Amber Alerts for cellphone users

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New York State residents -- as well as visitors -- who have newer cellphones will now be notified automatically when an Amber Alert is issued in their areas, state officials said.

A "full-screen alert" with limited detail will pop up, accompanied by a special tone, on a user's phone, said a release from New York State Police. The alert is based on a person's immediate location, not home base.

With an eye to enlisting the aid of the public, Amber Alerts are issued when police believe a child "has been abducted and is in imminent danger of death or serious harm," the release said.

Though many people may be unaware, wireless users with new or updated phones are already automatically enrolled to receive two other types of no-cost alerts -- those indicating imminent threats, such as hurricanes or tornadoes, as well as presidential alerts that might deal with issues of national security.

That's through the Wireless Emergency Alerts system, a national initiative allowing authorized public safety agencies to begin alerts that are routed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sent on to wireless carriers and then on to designated cell towers.

The alerts are not subject to "potential congestion (or delays) on wireless networks," said a notice on the website of CTIA-The Wireless Association, which helped begin the system that launched in April 2012.

Mobile users with WEA-capable devices can opt out of all AMBER and imminent-threat alerts -- except those from the president -- by changing their settings or checking with wireless service providers for directions.

"The wireless industry has indicated that all cellphones are expected to be WEA capable in 2013," the State Police release said.

Learn more at:

* Federal Communications Commission website: http://www.fcc.gov/guides/wireless-emergency-alerts-wea

* CTIA-The Wireless Association website: http://www.ctia.org/consumer_info/safety/index.cfm/AID/12082

* New York State Police website: https://www.nyspnews.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=30279&

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