National Weather Service setting up free emergency message service



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Posted on May 30, 2012 at 10:02 PM

Updated Saturday, Jun 2 at 9:36 AM

FORT WORTH - In a first-of-its-kind program, the National Weather Service (NWS) is partnering with cell phone providers to send free emergency text messages to cell phones in areas where there's an emergency.

"Instead of having to sit down, find a TV station, find a radio station, find the official source of information, it's going to come directly to you on your cell phone," explained NWS meteorologist Mark Fox.

He said the program is unique, because the text message can be sent to you wherever you are. If you live in Dallas-Fort Worth and happen to be in Alabama during an emergency in that state, you'll get a text.

It's called the Weather Emergency Alert (WEA) message.

The system works like a radio to send out important information. It's faster than a regular text. Tests have shown texts will arrive within 5-10 seconds.

"If they really perfect this technology, they could let people know that an earthquake is about to happen before they can even feel the shaking happening," said Dr. Matthew Wright. "So I think there is a lot of potential for this."

Wright is an associate professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. He has done extensive research on Internet and computer privacy.

He said the system doesn't use GPS or a smart phone application that tracks your phone, so privacy shouldn't be an issue.

It's already been tested in Los Angeles and in New York.

The first emergency texts in North Texas could go out in a month's time.