Public safety officials use swift and reliable systems to alert you of weather emergencies. Here’s what you need to know about WEAs, and the EAS.

Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs)

Did you know you can receive weather-related wireless emergency alerts, or WEAs, on your cell phone? WEAs are short emergency messages that are sent from federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial public alerting authorities, according to—a government campaign designed to promote disaster preparedness. These messages can be broadcast from cell towers to any mobile device that’s WEA-enabled in a locally-targeted area.

WEAs can be issued by state and local public safety officials, the National Weather Service, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as well as the President of the United States.

Here are a few more things to know about WEAs:

They look like text messages, but they use an attention-getting sound and vibration that are repeated twice.

They specify the type and time of the alert, any actions that you should take, and the agency that issued the alert. WEAs don’t exceed 360 characters.

They aren’t impacted by cell phone network congestion.

You aren’t charged for receiving WEAs, and you don’t have to subscribe.

Emergency Alert System (EAS)

You’re probably already very familiar with the Emergency Alert System (EAS). It’s that moment when your TV programming gets interrupted by a series of loud buzzing beeps, accompanied by a banner across the top of your screen—or a different screen altogether, along with a voice explaining the reason for the interruption.

State and local authorities use the Emergency Alert System to relay emergency weather information, imminent threats, AMBER alerts, as well as local incident information regarding specific jurisdictions. Because the EAS is a national public warning system it is a mechanism by which the President can address the nation during a national emergency, and establish communication within 10 minutes.

Here are a couple more things to know about the EAS:

It’s up to the President to determine when the national-level EAS will be used.

The EAS can be used when all other ways to communicate with the public are unavailable.