Last night I received an AMBER alert on my Android phone (a few-years-old Samsung running Gingerbread), which made the phone vibrate madly like I had received several consecutive text messages. Wanting to disable these alerts,* I navigated to the Messaging App, then Settings, then Emergency Alerts. There, I saw four alerting types:
- Presidential alerts (Mandatory alerts)
- Extreme alerts (Extreme threat to life and property)
- Severe alerts (Severe threat to life and property)
- AMBER alerts (Child abduction emergency alerts)
All of these can be disabled except for the Presidential alerts. Being a bit creeped out by the fact that there are 'Presidential alerts' that can't be disabled on my phone (especially with all of the government surveillance coming to light these days), I started to do some research. Other Android users have taken notice of the Presidential alerts as well.
These alert types were brought about by the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) which was created with the passage of the Warning, Alert, and Response Network Act in 2006. The system, however, was only implemented by all of the major carriers starting in 2012. The system confusingly goes by other names as well: Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN).
So why can't one block Presidential alerts? The FCC's FAQ on the subject has the answer:
Why can’t consumers block WEAs issued by the President?
In passing the WARN Act, Congress allowed participating carriers to offer subscribers the capability to block all WEAs except those issued by the President.
'Participating carriers,' of course, means all of the major ones, at least:recently rolled out to iPhones as well.
* A good article critiquing AMBER alerts is here: Abducted! The Amber Alert system is more effective as theater than as a way to protect children