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Why Controversy About Wireless Emergency Alerts Is a Good Thing


By Dr. Vincent Giordano, Program Director, Criminal Justice at American Public University

In a world where more than 300 million people have cell phones, the use of this technology for communicating during emergencies has become wide-spread and highly controversial (CTIA, 2013).

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) (2013), Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) allows governmental agencies to send emergency alerts through targeted cell towers to all WEA-enabled devices. These alerts include weather-related emergencies, Amber Alerts, and elder alerts.

So what is the controversy?

According to the FCC, “consumers do not need to sign up for this service. WEA allows government officials to send emergency alerts to all subscribers with WEA-capable devices if their wireless carrier participates in the program” (FCC, 2013, para. 12). This has enraged members of the general public and has sparked widely publicized debate.

The Case of Amber Alert WEA Notifications
Who wouldn’t want to help find missing children? Apparently, a lot more people than you would think. News sources across the United States report that people are up in arms at the disturbance caused by late-night Amber Alerts, with many consumers asking how they can opt out of these types of alerts.

ims234-021People do not like being inconvenienced in situations where they feel there is nothing they can do to help. Case in point, I live in the Tampa Bay area and recently received an Amber Alert from Miami. Many of my friends and associates in the area also received the same alert and questioned the logic in sending an Amber Alert from Miami to Tampa?

In response to the perceived inconvenience of these alerts, many subscribers are turning this alert off in the phone. However, they often face backlash from friends and family for their decision. The question goes back to this: Who wouldn’t want to help find a child or the criminal who took them?

This pressure is causing a very public debate that ultimately brings societal problems to the forefront of the minds of people across the U.S. Hopefully this will spark some additional debate about how to avoid these types of alerts in the first place!

The Role of Law Enforcement
What does this mean for criminal justice organizations? The WEA system has definitely caught the attention of the general public, for good or bad reasons. Consumers are now aware of the system that uses cell towers to push alerts to any WiFi-enabled device connected to that tower. While there are some irritated consumers out there, there are also children being found alive and criminals being caught.

With this type of success, and the type of free publicity about this system, criminal justice organizations are being given the assistance they need from the public, begrudgingly or with a smile, and communication is increasing. If the results are positive, who cares about controversy?

About the Author: Dr. Vinnie Giordano Ph.D, CAP, CCJAP obtained his bachelor’s in liberal arts from Long Island University/C.W. Post with a specialization in political science. He then went on to achieve his MS in criminal justice from Florida Metropolitan University, and another MS in criminal justice from the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Giordano obtained his Ph.D. in human services with a specialization in criminal justice from Capella University. Before coming to APUS as a full-time employee, Dr. Giordano worked in the field of substance abuse and behavioral health for 13 years as a substance abuse counselor in a Department of Corrections-funded youth offender program. There he maintained positions in counseling and supervising for a 28-day residential and aftercare program, and as the Administrator of Juvenile Services at the Pinellas Juvenile Assessment Center.


CTIA. (2013). U.S. Wireless Quick Facts. Retrieved from http://www.ctia.org/advocacy/research/index.cfm/aid/10323

FCC. (2013). Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). Retrieved from http://www.fcc.gov/guides/wireless-emergency-alerts-wea



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