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Wireless Emergency Alert has familiar ring, jolting Long Islanders awake

A year ago on a rainy summer night, diners at a Greek restaurant in Little Neck were just sitting down to their evening meals when someone's mobile phone issued a screechy nnnyannnyannnya.

Then came another. Then several all at once. And then more, still.

In the ensuing seconds of puzzlement, someone smiled, and then someone else, until the barrier between strangers was momentarily dropped.

Most were recognizing the sound as that of a Wireless Emergency Alert, warning them of flash flooding in the vicinity -- the same sound, with vibration, that jolted more than a few Long Islanders awake early Friday.

Though many may be unaware, wireless users with newer-model or software-updated mobile phones or other devices are automatically enrolled to receive such no-cost "imminent threat" alerts that are targeted to their location in the moment.

Certain public safety agencies -- the National Weather Service included -- are authorized to initiate such alerts that are then routed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, then sent on to wireless carriers and then on to designated cell towers in the affected areas.

So, even if you're a visitor to Long Island from Des Moines, you might have been jolted awake before sunrise Friday when a flash flood warning for parts of the area was issued.

This alert system -- which also includes Amber Alerts and those initiated by the U.S. president -- involves collaboration among FEMA, the Federal Communications Commission and the wireless industry, with carriers participating voluntarily.

In their phone settings, consumers can opt out of receiving Amber and imminent threat alerts, but not those issued by the president or a designee, which could be related to matters of national security.

Consumers also can check with their carriers to learn which devices are enabled, and see the CTIA-The Wireless Association website for links to participating carriers: http://www.ctia.org/your-wireless-life/consumer-tips/wireless-emergency-alerts

Also learn more at the FCC site: https://www.fcc.gov/guides/wireless-emergency-alerts-wea

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