City ready to send emergency alerts to cellphones in targeted areas

Thursday marked first live test in public; system ready for real emergencies

SAN ANTONIO – The city of San Antonio's new wireless emergency alert system may sound like a weather or AMBER alert, but it's different in that the system can direct messages to a very specific area.

The system, run through the Federal Emergency Management System, is ready to be used for emergencies. But Thursday was the first live test in public. 

Anyone who was at San Antonio International Airport, North Star Mall or the Alamo Quarry Market from noon to 1 p.m. likely got a test emergency alert that read, "This is a public safety message test from the City of San Antonio. THIS IS ONLY A TEST."

Some people inside the airport during that hour weren't from San Antonio, but they got the alert because they were inside the test region.

"Geographically targeted information. So, for this test, we're testing a 1.5 mile radius, and once this test goes out, it goes out for an hour," said San Antonio Emergency Manager Patrick Zepeda.

The Emergency Operations Center targeted the 78216 Zip code, which is near Northeast Loop 410 and Highway 281. Anyone in or traveling through the area during that hour should have received the message.

Some people heard devices go off around them, but never got the alert on their phones.

"I did from everyone else, and I checked my phone, there was nothing there," said Mary Caricato, who was sitting inside the airport the whole hour.

A city spokesperson cited the following reasons for those people who didn't get the alert:

  • Their phone's emergency alerts are not enabled. To do that, people should change that in their settings tabs.
  • Their phone isn't capable of receiving WEA alerts, see device manufacturer.
  • Their wireless carrier may not participate in the program.
  • Their phone wasn't enabled and is set to opt out of Emergency Alerts or AMBER Alerts.
  • They weren't in an area that was targeted.

Thursday was the system's first live test in the community, but it's already been tested multiple times in labs and is already capable of being used in a real emergency. 

Those emergencies can include but are not limited to:

  • Train derailments
  • Chemical releases
  • Wildfires
  • Gas leaks
  • Active shooter situations
  • Bomb threats
  • Vehicle as a weapon

"It’s good. Actually, I’m glad it worked that way. If there was an emergency I’d want to know," said Chicago resident Renetta McCann, who was traveling through San Antonio at the airport.


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