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Wireless Users May Receive Test Alerts Thursday

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New York City-area residents who use AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon devices may receive text and audio alerts from emergency officials Thursday, but they're only a test.

Officials said they're working on a new, emergency alert system to let people know about imminent safety threats in their neighborhoods, AMBER alerts for missing children or messages from the president. 

Wireless customers may get test messages with the words "severe alert" or "extreme alert," and a disclaimer that it's only a test. They go out between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Thursday.

Joe Bruno, commissioner of the city's Office of Emergency Management, said about 100 workers will be dispatched around the city with cell phones, to help test the system. He said he believes the test will be "pretty much limited" to those phones.

But, he added, other wireless users, especially those with newer phones, may also get alerts.  Bruno said all wireless carriers will be required to manufacture phones that are able to receive the alerts by April of next year — but notes that some carriers have already started rolling them out.

The Wireless Emergency Alert System was announced by city officials in May, and will launch as a pilot program on January 1st.

Earlier this week, Verizon rattled customers in New Jersey, by mistakenly sending out an alert about a "civil emergency," and urging them to take shelter — without the notification that it was only a test. The company has apologized for the incident.

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