There are now two primary methods that citizens in Massachusetts can get emergency information on their cellphones, Massachusetts Alerts (via Ping4alerts! smartphone app) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs). Both of these methods will provide timely and important information about emergencies and hazards in your area and how you should respond to ensure your safety. Important messages may be delivered using both methods. 

Learn more about each of the two methods with the information provided below:

Massachusetts Alerts (Ping4alerts! app)                       Wireless Emergency Alerts

 

Massachusetts Alerts

Massachusetts Alerts is a communication tool used by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) to disseminate critical information to smartphones.  Massachusetts Alerts is powered by a free downloadable application that is available for Android and iPhone devices. Through geofencing technology of the app, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) can send highly targeted, instant multimedia alerts to iPhone and Android devices to notify citizens about important public safety and emergency information for their location. Massachusetts Alerts (powered by the FREE ping4alerts! mobile app) is one way that MEMA sends emergency information and messages. See more information below or in the Ping4alerts! App Brochure pdf format of Ping4alerts! App Brochure file size 1MB

Sample screenshots of National Weather Service (NWS) and MEMA alerts:

  Screenshot of National Weather Service Alert on Ping4 app. In an emergency a message could be from the National Weather Service that would describe the severe weather event including the location and timing.   Screenshot of MEMA alert on Ping4 app. In an emergency a message could be from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency that would describe the emergency situation and may provide instructions. There also may be links to share and get more information.

 

Watch this short video to learn more about how Massachusetts Alerts (ping4alerts! app) works:

 

The ping4alerts! app is currently available for iOS (Apple) and Android platforms. Download it today by searching for "ping4alerts" on the App Store, Android Market or using the below links or QR code: 

App Store Android Market  
   

QR Code to scan with your smartphone:

QR code to be read by smartphone screenreader

App icon that you will see on your phone after downloading:

Ping 4 app logo. Consists of white exclamation point on blue background

FAQ for Massachusetts Alerts

Q: What is Massachusetts Alerts?

A: Massachusetts Alerts is a communication tool used by MEMA to disseminate critical information to smartphones.  Massachusetts Alerts is powered by a free downloadable application app (called ping4alerts) that is available for Android and iPhone devices based on your location.  Currently the app is available for iPhone and Android platforms.

Q: Where do I get the app or get more information?

A: The ping4alerts! app can be downloaded from iTunes or the App Store for iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod) and the Google Play online store for Android devices. More information can also be found on the Ping4 website.

Q: What type of alerts will I receive?

 A: Once you download the app, you can adjust your preferences in the settings section of the app. The default settings include receiving "public safety" messages from organizations like MEMA and weather warnings (like tornado, thunderstorm, flash flood, blizzard, hurricane, and more) from the National Weather Service. The settings also allow you to receive less severe weather alerts if you wish such as weather watches, advisories, and special weather statements from the National Weather Service.

Q: How will Massachusetts Alerts notify me if an alert has been sent about severe weather or other emergencies?

A: When a new alert is sent, the ping4alerts! app will cause your phone to sound an audible alert and it will push a notification to your phone’s screen. The sound settings for notifications can be adjusted in the app's "settings" section. In addition, certain severe messages about life threatening conditions may override the phone’s silent or vibrate settings to ensure that the user gets the message.

Q: What do I do after receiving a message?

A: It depends on the nature of the event. The message may contain a recommended course of action.  The message may also provide prompt you to access additional critical information by touching buttons or links on the ping4alerts! message screen.   You should also check other sources of information, such as the radio or television or information from public safety officials.  Do not call 9-1-1 unless you have an emergency.

Q:  Is the ping4alerts! app storing or tracking my information?

A:  No, the ping4alerts! app uses your location when you have location services enabled on your smartphone.  The location information is used to provide the warnings if you are in the affected area. While Ping4alerts! is aware of your location, it does not receive or store any identifying information from your smartphone. In other words it knows where you are, not who you are or anything about you.

Q: What functions will the app have if cellular and data networks are down?

A: The app relies on data service to provide situational information. If there is no data service available, the messages will not be received until the data service is operational.

Q: Is this the same as other emergency cell phone alerts that I have heard about?

A: Separate from this app, the wireless industry, the FCC, and FEMA are developing the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system. Certain cell phones are currently WEA compatible with the list expected to grow in the future.  The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency will use Ping4alerts! and the WEA to provide critical information to the public; each system provides certain benefits.  The WEA only pushes text messages while ping4alerts! has the ability to target a specific area for a message and it has the ability for two way communications and can include images, video and links to more information.  The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency strongly recommends that smartphone users in Massachusetts utilize ping4alerts! and WEA to receive critical information during emergencies.

Q: How does this differ from my local community’s emergency notification (“reverse 911” type) system? Do I need both?

A: Many communities (and some counties) in Massachusetts operate some type of local emergency notification (“reverse 911” type) system that may require registration in order to get local alerts and messages. Massachusetts Alerts ( ping4alerts! app) is a complementary notification tool with different features and is designed to supplement, not replace, these local notification systems. Certain messages such as severe weather alerts, amber alerts, and others may be sent via Massachusetts Alerts which may not be sent via local emergency notification systems. Also certain community specific information may be sent only by local notification system. Certain incidents may result in messages via both Massachusetts Alerts and local notification systems. In addition, ping4alerts! currently only works on iPhones and Android smartphone devices while local notification systems may provide additional ways of receiving messages (email, landline phones, and calls to cell phones). Massachusetts Alerts (ping4alerts! app) provides information to the smart phone based on where the phone is in the state, unlike local notification systems which typically only relate to the one community. MEMA encourages everyone to BOTH download Massachusetts Alerts (ping4alerts! app) AND to sign up for local notification systems (which can be done by contacting local public safety agencies).

Q: I am having trouble with the app and I believe it is not working correctly. What should I do?

A: Once the ping4alerts! app has been downloaded, please make sure that the location services for the app are enabled so that you can receive specific warnings and messages based on your location. There is also a feature in the settings to send yourself a test message. If there are specific technical questions, there is a “report a problem” option within the app’s settings, or you can email: support@ping4.com.

 

 

Wireless Emergency Alerts

image of what an emergency alert would look like on a cell phone

Have you received an emergency alert on your cell phone about severe weather, an AMBER Alert or another emergency and were unsure of what it was or where it came from?

Beginning in June 2012, the Wireless Association and the wireless industry joined the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to offer a robust and reliable Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system.

There are three different kinds of alerts:

  1. Imminent Threat Alerts – Alerts that include severe man-made or natural disasters where an imminent threat to life or property exists:

-Most WEAs will be issued by NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS).  WEAs will be used by the NWS only for the most imminent and severe weather conditions. This includes automatic alerts when Warnings are issued for: Tornados, Flash Floods, Blizzards, Ice Storms, Hurricanes, and Tsunamis.

-Imminent Threat alerts may be issued by authorized state officials, such as the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).  Alerts must meet certain criteria that are established in the FCC rules to ensure that only the most urgent messages are sent as a WEA.

   2. AMBER Alerts – Alerts that meet the U.S. Department of Justice’s criteria to help law enforcement search for and locate an abducted child. These alerts are sent by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

   3. Presidential Alerts – Alerts issued by the President or a designee

While these alerts will appear on a person’s mobile device similar to a text message, they are differentiated from a regular text message because they include a special tone and vibration, both repeated twice. WEAs are not text messages but instead use a different kind of technology to ensure they are delivered immediately and are not subjected to potential congestion (or delays) on wireless networks. There are no fees/charges for this service (does not count as a text message).  The device's location information is used only for the delivery of the Wireless Emergency Alert and is not tracked by the provider or the government.

WEAs will be sent to those within a targeted area, unlike text messages, which are not location based. While WEAs will be targeted, an alert usually is sent to an entire county. As some counties are quite large, you may need to investigate further after you receive a WEA to learn whether you may be in harm's way. Your best use of WEA is to immediately seek additional information about the imminent threat impacting your area.

Wireless Emergency Alert Logo, designating which phones are WEA capable

If you have a WEA-enabled phone, you are automatically enrolled. The number of WEA-capable devices continues to grow, and many of the new phones (both smartphones and non-smartphones) that are sold from participating carriers will be able to receive these alerts. If your device has the Wireless Emergency Alerts logo (see logo to right), then it is WEA-capable. If you have an older phone, you might need to only upgrade your device’s software, rather than purchase a new one. To confirm Wireless Emergency Alerts are available in your area and your device is capable of receiving the alerts, please check with your carrier.

Wireless Emergency Alerts are just one notification tool available to the public. If you do not have a WEA-enabled phone, then you can still rely on other means of receiving emergency information.  This includes NOAA Weather Radios, news media coverage, ping4alerts!, the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on radio and TV broadcasts, social media, and other alerting methods. Many communities in Massachusetts operate some type of local emergency notification (“reverse 911” type) system that may require registration in order to get local alerts and messages from the community. WEAs are designed to supplement, not replace these other notification methods (which can be done by contacting local public safety agencies).

More information about WEA (including links to cell phone carrier information) is available on the CTIA website. For FAQs, see FEMA’s WEA/CMAS website or the National Weather Service website. WEA is also known as the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) and the Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN). WEA/CMAS/PLAN are part of FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).