Wireless Emergency Alerts-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Wireless Emergency Alerts-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Improving Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)

When severe weather, terrorist threats or other emergencies occur, government officials alert the public by sending text messages to smartphones and other mobile devices that are enabled to receive wireless emergency alerts. The current delivery and targeting system can be deployed to individual counties, but the actual affected area for many alert situations may be smaller or more precise than these broad boundaries. Many first responders and agencies, along with government officials and citizens, have expressed concern that broadcasting alerts to individuals who are not actually at risk might reduce the effectiveness of the WEA system. This is compounded by the extremely brief, 90-character format of emergency messages in the current design.

With new technologies available for and incorporated into public warning systems, there has been little if any research to develop a factual basis for evaluating these concerns. CMU-SV researchers are examining if improvements in wireless technology can enable agencies to deliver more detailed messages to mobile devices, and if individual phones and devices can appropriately filter those messages by determining users' locations, interests and needs.

Capable Wireless Emergency Alerts logo with WEA+ cell phone


In order for WEA to be effective and cost efficient for emergency situations, it should not only provide correct and timely emergency information but also carefully narrow delivery of information to the right people in the right locations. Thus, the definition and expectation of “improved targeting” will be refined to take advantage of higher geographic specificity as well as “context-aware” or “interest” targeting, such as use of registered and inferred interests and preferences.


Apply best practices in system design, requirements engineering, usability testing, and public warning to collect operational requirements from actual alert originators and to assess actual consumer response to alerts at varying levels of precision and detail. We will do several technology investigations and prototyping, related to recently improved Smart Phone and Small Cell wireless infrastructure.