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AMBER Alerts on your Windows Phone: What they are and how to manage them

If you’re in California today, you may have heard an AMBER alert go off on your phone. If so, it probably really caught your attention. AMBER stands for America's Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response Alerts, named after the late Amber Hagerman, and they are part of the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system on US and other carriers.

With Windows Phone 8 (and iOS and certain Android devices), users can go into their settings to enable or disable such notifications, or select which ones they want to receive. What types are there? What do they mean? We’ll explain.

But first, let’s tell you how to find them, as they’re kind of buried in the Windows Phone menu system.

Emergency Alert Settings on Windows Phone

  1. Settings
  2. Applications (swipe to the right)
  3. Messaging
  4. Emergency Alerts

Once you have loaded up the settings, you will see a few options:

  • AMBER Alerts – on/off
  • Emergency Alerts – All alerts, Presidential only, Presidential and Extreme Alerts

There are three types of WEA alerts, which are defined as such:

  1. Imminent threat alerts: Notify you of severe man-made or natural disasters that pose a threat to life or property
  2. AMBER alerts: Inform you about a missing child in your area
  3. Presidential alerts: Update you on important events

You can of course choose which ones you want to get, including none, though we of course would recommend you opt for all three. That’s the default setting, but it’s always good to know in case you wanted to toggle them. Even more, it’s good to read this post in case you never knew your phone had this function, or, like many, you just had the alert appear on your phone.

These settings are found on AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile Windows Phones.

As you can see with our lede image, taken from an actual AMBER Alert, Windows Phone users will get a full screen notification along with an audio alarm or  intense vibration (if set to vibrate). Basically, even in vibrate mode, it will feel different than a regular notification. If you missed the message, you can go into your Messages inbox and find the Alert there, in case you need the information again (we erroneously reported earlier that there was no record).

What the Alert sounds like

Hit the above YouTube video to hear what the Emergency Alerts sound like. It's pretty identifiable and it should catch your attention. If your phone is set to vibrate, you may only get an intense/long vibration alert.

Have you ever had a Wireless Emergency Alert on your Windows Phone? Share your experience with us below.

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Reader comments

AMBER Alerts on your Windows Phone: What they are and how to manage them

191 Comments

I remember a few months ago I got an Amber alert on my 928 up here in MN. Great feature! Best way to get the word out about missing children in my opinion.

Yea, but when it goes off in the middle of the night it scared the crap out of me. Plus I hate that siren noise cause it makes me think of a tornado siren.

I just hope and pray that if the time comes that an Amber alert needs to be sounded on behalf of YOU and YOUR family, that there will still be enough people with their alert on in their phones to be able to help save YOUR life and YOUR family's.

Right, but I live in a rural area. The odds of a child kidnapped in Atlanta (where every amber alert I received was from) comes within 20 miles of my house is probably 1 in a billion. So don't take such offense to people's decisions, sometimes people have different situations.
Really, I turned it off on my phone because I got a few alerts in the middle of the night.

+1020,

Despite it's annoyances, I'm more than willing to take a small irritation here and there if it's for the sake of saving lives.

I shut them off. But not because I don't care for them. But I would get an alert every hour or so. And the details mention people who went missing in the 90s. So it was inappropriate between the amount of times it sent me stuff and the timing of the people going missing.

Well there shouldn't be a time limit on when a child is missing regardless of when cause if it was your child it would be a different story now would it

I agree 100%. But my issue is that a person who went missing 15+ years ago in my area most likely is not around the area. And they give a description of someone from 15 years ago (which won't look exactly the same) without a picture. And lastly, they send the same message about the same person every 20 minutes-1 hour. I understand the purpose, but when abused like it is, I see no reason to keep it on. If it were different people, or new information, or a recent case, I would keep it on, But imagine being at work during a meeting and your phone makes everyone think there is a military raid about to happen because it goes off. I have sympathy for the people involved, but it shouldn't be abused as it is.

That sounds like a horrible abuse of the system. I have it on and have only gotten a handful of alerts over several years.

Honestly, the AMBER Alerts are too loud and non-contextual.  I was in a business meetign with some people from Asia and despite turning my phone to silent it went off like an air raid siren trying to tell me about a missing child 15 miles away.  There was no easy way to explain to my guests what the Alarm was for, that I was not being disrespectful by having my phone set to accept messages while meeting with folks who had travelled thousands of miles to be in that meeting.

It would be alot better if they could be set to make a less obtrusive sound during scheduled meetings and when the phone is set to silent.  Otherwise, I suspect a lot of people will turn them off, which will defeat the purpose of them.

In Canada we do have a system (though I think currently it's only for weather), it uses a technology called Mobile Broadcast (or Cellular Broadcast), iPhones, Android Phones support it (at least stock Android) but I don't think Windows Phone does.. Last summer in Ontario we had a terrible thunderstorm, my friends Nexus 4 got the Warning from environment Canada right away while my 920 got nothing... Since this isn't mandatory, it doesn't need to be supported

Just got the Amber alert here in southern California. Not near Long Beach at the moment, but hope they find the kid. Glad to have it on Windows Phone!

I'm in Southern California and never got it. Just check the settings and it is on. Do they target very specific areas? I'm in the San Fernando Valley.

Yeah AMBER Alerts and WEA's are usally targated at a certan geographical area so they remain relevant. Though AMBER alerts are usally broadcast pretty far since the person isn't likely to stay in one place...hope the kid is ok though...

Same here. I've only ever received one, also today. I know my Lumia 920 didn't have that feature but the 1020 does. Anyway, I have no idea why anyone would receive so many alerts. There aren't that many amber alerts!

We have so many options on wp. We ppl don't have a look regularly. One of my friend didn't new what was glance screen,driving mode and nfc

Yea it's also on my HTC 8xt (Sprint)! I actually received an amber alert on my phone a few days ago.

If you're in the Washington, DC area you've probably had a couple within the last month or so. They're pretty jarring, no doubt. They're distinctly different than any other notification, that's for sure.

Yep, jarring is definitely the word. Even though I've gotten a few already, every time it feels (and sounds) like my damn pocket is going to explode.

Yupp im in Springfield, MO where that little girl was killed by a teacher a few weeks back. The amber alert that's came through there will make you shit yourself if it comes at the wrong time

Ive been receiving these for years now. But its definitely something all phones should have. I wonder if any solutions were direct influence of this system... Especially a windows phone owner ;)

Like the article said there was one here in California about 1 hr ago. It caught me by surprise as I have only received extreme weather alerts until today.

I live in CA, so yes. :) They sent out one earlier in the year as well, I think that one was the first run of the system nation wide. I believe the sound is the same as the Emergency Broadcast System sound you hear on TV across the board (anyone who lives in the midwest knows what it sounds like), so the office here was pretty noisy when the alert got sent out.

I like the idea but didn't like getting the same notification every 30 minutes. It got annoying after a couple hours. It lasted about 4 hours

and hance you can find articles on how to turn them off. You annoy people, you basically render the system innefective. when good ideas go bad.

+920

Once is enough.  I received the same report almost 2 dozen times in one day and didn't know how to disable it. A big "thank you" for the useful article.

Just received an amber alert today while driving to Pismo beach, it's great too have this feature on WP8 to help those in need,.

I believe we might be the only 2 people on the central coast with windows phone's,. L0L that's why it's called the SLO life.

I'd turn them off in a box.
I'd turn them off with a fox.
I'd turn them off in a house.
I'd turn them off with a mouse.
I would not see them here or there.
I would not hear them anywhere.
I would not take Amber Alerts.
I do not like them, Dan-I-am. 

 

Maybe people with infants who don't want their phones to wake up their kids. The alert will go out even if your phone is in vibrate.

Strange... My phone is always on vibrate, and my 1020 complies with this. Rather than hearing the loud emergency broadcast tone thing: it just vibrates like crazy.

I turn them off all the time. When one of these things goes off it can cause you to lose concentration and kill you in a car reck. it is an accident waiting to happen. one thing is they were a simple discrete message. But it's like a bomb goes off on your pocket. Plus ok some kid got kinapped, what am I supposed to do at 2am in the morning. off they are. off they shall remain. and BTW, why does obama get to alert me of anything? I wish I could get that off too.

Me. They're annoying and pretty much useless unless you're out driving on a freeway in California (and in that case the freeway message boards are also broadcasting the alert). If you ask me AMBER alerts are a gross abuse of this system, turning them off reduces the noise and makes people more likely to pay attention to alerts that have broad applicability (fires, earthquakes, flooding, etc.).

I don't go out in public enough to ever assist in finding a particular person, child, car or whatever. Opting in for interested people is fine but so is turning it off.

Someone who likes to have control of their device.  You'd have to be dead to miss an Amber alert.  They're everywhere.

What kind of person is so concerned with what other people do in their own life?

It is the "think of the children" crowd that won't be happy until some amber alert interupts you even when you're pooping :)

damn thats a cool usew for tech, I hope they find the kid. We could use that in NZ for earthquake and severe weather warnings. I wonder why we dont hmmm....

I received an Amber alert a few months ago. It played the loud TV noise and put a text message in my messages, though. No full screen alert.

Typical idiotic conservative ramblings. All it takes is the word "President" and they feel they have to invent completely baseless conspiracy theories that are, as usual, untrue.

Oh, it's not exclusive to "conservatives"...liberals did the same thing when Bush was President.  ALL of you partisans are annoying.

I've yet to receive an AMBER alert natively on my phone though I have received AMBER alerts via txt from my local municipality as i have signed up for their service.

So i'm not sure if VZW just sucks w/ this on WP (highly likely) or if something else is at play.

I received a tornado warning 2 Sunday's ago. It looked just like that picture, other than stating there was a tornado in the area and to take cover. I find that quite useful living in Florida where the weather can turn on you on a moments notice. Got nasty hail but did not have a tornado touch down.

Whoa, that's cool. Never knew we had this.

 

On that note, I better not see any of you guys show up in an article of your tweets complaining that the alert interrupted your beauty sleep like all those iOS users a month or so back.

Same. While most of my friends on iPhones got it, a few didn't. But the ones who didn't all have iPhone 4's, so that could potentially be it. Then again, the AMBER alert system is more of a software thing, and they were all running iOS 7, so...

Here at middle east they use this kind of notification for marketing ads, in addition to the regular sms ads.. No option in the settings to disable it... They sometimes claim that i can disable it by calling the customer service but it didn't eliminate all ads..

I prefer only to know about Godzilla attacks, a rouge Titan, or if Rodneyej has entered the state.

Cool. If you don't mind me asking, whereabouts in Mass? I would assume Boston. But I just thought I'd ask being a Massachusetts native (and from Boston) myself.

I wish they would use more common sense and opt to respect your phone's settings. for example, if I'm in a meeting, I don't want these things going off. That's why I set the phone to vibrate. I know most of my co-workers turned them off after an embarrasing incident on a sales demo. Shows why overzealos legislators often don't know how to use technology by demanding these alerts basically turn your phone into a freaking nuclear siren or be off. There is no middle ground. idiots.

This is the problem with including what are really very focused alerts like AMBER alerts in a system that should be reserved for critical alerts. If this alert goes off it shouldn't matter where you are or what you're doing - it should be important enough that you need to shut up and listen. Honestly, if your not out driving on a freeway somewhere (certainly if you're sitting in a meeting)  the AMBER alert has zero applicability - except to make the overall alert system less effective. Important alerts: ON, AMBER alerts: OFF.

Eh, the thing with driving is to spot the car, possibly on the highway. Here in NY, they broadcast AMBER alerts on the highway roadsigns with the idea that if a kid is kidnapped and in a car, you may actually see the car on the highway. 

Granted, if you're phone is in your pocket, this can be an issue, but if you drive with a phone holder, then it's just a swipe away.

But this DOES force the question, which I'm surprised you overlooked: Driver Mode on Windows Phone 8 Update 3. That should suppress notifications and I wonder if it does for these too.

I used to have a Pro Clip for my 920, but I sold that car and now have a car with integrated Bluetooth, which can handle calls and messaging via voice commands.  The phone stays in my pocket, now.

Had that alert come in while I was driving, there would have been some sudden lane changes.  It just vibrated like chihuahua until I turned it off.

I'm in Virginia and we got one this past month. It was crazy hearing what sounded like a National Broadcasting System alert coming from my phone. The message is in the Messaging app under "threads" after you dismiss it.

There is no way to turn off the President's giant voice system?!? That alone is enough to turn me away from the platform...

Check the other platforms. Same on Nexus 5. On Samsung phones, they give you an option...but you can't actually check it, so it does nothing.

Like Android itself, the Alerts on Android are fragmented in design, options and availability.

I would think there would be at least some Android roms out there with it patched out.

Edit: yeah, on Android you can edit a XML file to turn the Presidential Alerts off. If there isn't some (even hacky way) to do this on WP, my next phone won't be a WP, and I've been using WP since the first 7s.

I'm pretty sure that presidential speaker wasn't a feature listed for my 920, 520, or focus. It doesn't matter how much it is used. My issue is the fact that it exists at all without a way to turn it off.

You know that its for emergency broadcasts only right? Its not like it alerts you to his weekly radio address.
Seems that most people would appreciate an alert about a national emergency.

They just hate Obama so much that even seeing "Presidential" on the phone without being able to turn it off pisses them off.

It was definitely an emergency in that area, and it was nit sent out nationally.
Two terrorists on the run, who had already exploded two bombs, killed a cop and carjacked somebody while throwing bombs out their car at police, loose in the neighborhood... that's quite an emergency.
I wouldn't exactly call it "failed" since one was caught and the other killed.

It was after one was killed. It was failed because it wasn't the police that found him. It was a regular person who noticed after the search, that something looked wrong with his boat. ...also, I'm not sure you can exactly label them terrorists when nobody has actually seen the video of them doing anything, yet it supposedly exists. My point is that the kind of police state that happened in that case, should never have been allowed in the US, no matter what did or didn't happen. Having crap in our phone, which is only used for that kind of abuse of power, without the ability to even turn it off, is enough for me to abandon the platform the next time I'm up for renewal.

"Having crap in our phone, which is only used for that kind of abuse of power, without the ability to even turn it off, is enough for me to abandon the platform the next time I'm up for renewal."

-Korn1699, future ex-WP user

According to that last link, it was used during the police state after the Boston bombings, when the government "rescued" the public with a gun in your face, forcing themselves inside your home if you lived in that area.

big borther doesn't think you're qualified to make such decision. after all it's just your phone, on your plan, on your money, on a private network. who says you have a say!

I never changed my alert setting but I also never received an amber alert. I live in California so I should have gotten quite a few in the last 1.5 years of Lumia 920/1520 ownership. Who do I contact to fix this?

I got one a few days ago in Maryland looking for some guy in a 99 black durango who killed someone then ran away with his daughter. :0 The alert system is great

I got this same amber alert and when I dismissed it, I noticed it also showed up in my list of text messages.

Not available on my unlocked phone.  The unlocked phone is the "Carrier: IT Country Variant", so I assume that is why it is not in settings.

You have to turn them off in Arizona. The weather service seems to think that everyone needs to be awakened from a dead sleep if someone is getting heavy rain.

My 810 has been going off every 20 minutes for the last hour and 15 minutes with the same Amber alert you have on the headline picture. But the irony is that my Nexus 4 got it faster than my WP:-(

GREAT IDEA
But not available in Canada :'(
WISH IT WAS, THIS WOULD BE AN AWESOME WAY TO GET THESE VERY IMPORTANT NOTIFICATIONS

In Canada we do have a system, it uses a technology called Mobile Broadcast (or Cellular Broadcast), iPhones, Android Phones support it (at least stock Android) but I don't think Windows Phone does.. Last summer in Ontario we had a terrible thunderstorm, my friends Nexus 4 got the Warning from environment Canada right away while my 920 got nothing... Since this isn't mandatory, it doesn't need to be supported

so, apparently we got a quite similar service in Europe called CB (Cell Broadcasting). Thing about this service is that at least in Germany it only provides location data on request, all the rest has been shut down years ago. Still I can find it in my settings as advanced SMS settings.
The settings page claims it sends information about catastrophes and adverts. I never received anything.

We had an Amber Alert here in Baltimore last Thursday.  Was in class at the time, so I could hear a couple phone virbrations (not too many though).  Handy feature assuming it isn't ever abused for not really an emergency situations (someone mentioned heavy rainfall triggering their notifications).
 

I live in the Washington, DC area. There was an AMBER alert for a child last week. The tone and vibration surprised my son and I. It got a bit annoying for me, because I ended up receiving 29 alerts! They were mixed full screen and most were only the upper portion of the screen.

Thank goodness they found the little girl unharmed.

NJ. 928. Got alert of stolen car somewhere in the south (state) 2-3 month ago. At first I missed it, just got my eye on Amber, thought it was about Amber update))) few hours later it rang again)

Used to have it enabled, but it just became very annoying as there was an amber alert in my area once every minute it seemed. Also, there isn't really much I can do about a child being kidnapped in another state (over 50 miles away.)

im surpised to see this not added in canada seeing as they use amber alerts aswell(not that often) good to see theres an opt out though

Our AT&T system must have got messed up last week a child came up missing and they went off continually a night and it took 5 minutes to clear them all. They just pile up one upon another.

I never knew we had that until recently when i started getting them. A lot of kids get taken up here in Delaware.

Seeing as Rogers is a Canadian carrier (I believe?), it of course doesn't have these settings. AMBER Alerts are a US based system (I think?), your phone's Canadian ROM lacks these settings. If it bothers you /that/ much, flash it with an AT&T ROM, and the settings should (in theory) appear.

Then again, I don't know much about this system, so I could be wrong in all regards, at which case, feel free to ignore this comment. :P

I can't believe that "progressive" California just now got Amber Alerts. They've been here in Georgia for years.
Trust me, when you get a couple alerts in the middle of the night you figure out how to turn it off pretty quickly.

It's more of a carrier thing. Verizon users in California have had these for a while, AT&T users got them a lot more recetly.

No, it bypasses carriers and uses it's own signal across all towers. Read the article from the LA Times I linked. Whether or not the phone supports it is another issue.

Get them in the DC area too. Kinda funny, when one is sent out at my school: you suddenly hear vibrations and the little alert sound everywhere, because all the kids have smartphone, and all of them are getting alerts.

One annoying thing thought is that my phone seems to get the same AMBER Alert 5-6 times... Oh well, better to receive them an abundance of times than not at all.

Mine' only has options for  Presidential Only, Presidential and Extreme alerts, and all alerts. The Ambvber alerts are the ones I would love to get rid of. I'v gotten 2 of them now since I've owned the phone and both at the worst times. One i has just gotten in the bed and was pretty much alseep. Dam phone goes off and at first i thought it was the smoke alarm, since I've never heard what smoe alarm sounds like. I haul ass out of bed, tell my girlfriend to get her son out the house and damn near jumped down all 15 steps to get downstairs to find the fire.It was my phone which was pluigged in on the dresser next to my bed. Of course the blodd is flowing now so I get hardly any sleep the rest of the night.

Second time I left the phone on my desk while I was somewhere else working on something. All my coworkers are freaking out because they had no idea what it was. and of curse the phone is locked so they couldn;t even turn it off until I got backl to my desk.

I flashed my AT&T 920 to the French rom a while back to get the amber update since at&t sat on it so long. Unfortunately, I can't get the alerts anymore.

The purpose of Presidential alerts is to provide a challenge for hackers. Who will be the first to send a fake "the nukes are falling, prepare to die" message? Will be funny!

 

I got one today.

Amber Alert
Long Beach, CA AMBER Left: Lic 4AUU679 (CA) 1998 Tan Saturn 4 door.

They're on Highway boards, TV and Radio here a few times a year. From the comments above it seems they're not too hot at GEO detection. It also seems like that chap receiving 50 a day with old cases something is clearly wrong with whatever local authority is managing the system.

That's what it is? Crap, I got one a few days ago and didn't know what they were LMFAO. I got one about a Black BMW car gone missing... I was like (WTF) I thought it was some joke. I see what it is now (face palm)

I got my first Amber the other day.  Twice.  In one hour.  And then I saw it on every overhead sign on 95 for the next 3 days.  Never did see one, single Dodge Durango, let alone the one they were looking for.

I turned off the notification immediately.  I'd turn them all off if I could.

I think the premise is great, but the execution is poor. Its a toast notification that if not acknowledged is followed by a piercing siren like the Emergency Broadcasting System test on TV that won't quit until you click Dismiss. All of that isn't really that bad considering. What is poor is receiving the same alert 5 or 6 times within the next 2 hours as random intervals.

A slightly less obnoxious alert tone would go a long way towards fostering public acceptance.

After a tornado went past my house I looked at my phone to see a nice Amber Alert sitting there as a notification dialog.

Sadly because the phone was on silent, the warning was unknown to me...

Some alerts (critical) need to play the warning sound at any time...

I like the idea of the mobile alert system, but the available options don't meet what I think to be general needs. When in environments in which mobile disturbances are not tolerated (such as a court room) the only way to ensure that that the alert does not go off is to disable it; the alerts are not impacted by one's sound settings. Also as previously mentioned at times the same alerts can be repeated on short intervals. I personally experienced this with a severe storm warning at 2:00am, then 2:15, ...

 

It would be nice if there were some way of getting the emergency alerts to conform to the same notification behaviour as the regular alerts (with being able to silence them). One may argue that this could lead to some one  missing alerts. But I think it would lead to less lost of alerts than disabling them all together.

After reading just the headline, i was to comment that i already have the BLACK update :D

nice thing this is.. What other countries have such alert system?

Personally, I dont mind them. I have kids and I would hope if something happened to my children that people would look at these and see if they could help.

I have gotten a few, with some details, I wish there was more info, like a picture of the missing kid, so people at a glance could see and if they see someone it would stand out...

I have only gotten text messages, and I really dont think that is enough for people to try to help.

I never got one. Neither on my 920 att or 928 verizon now using it for tmobile. 

 

I remember my friends IPhone started speaking out of nowehere. I thought that was cool. 

 

Why am I not getting them?

I hate when I get woken up by the AMBER alerts... but it's only happened a couple of times and I figured I'd leave it on. Would be nice to be able to set it to not go off at night. It's not like I'll be of any help when I'm home sleeping.

Thank you, Daniel, for making this a topic of discussion. I'm assuming the pic is from Sam's phone since I got the same alert on my 920 the other day.

I was sitting in my home office and the loud noise did startle me, but I was also impressed that my phone delivered geographically relevant information. When I'm driving around, I seldom take freeways, so I don't see the highway signs flashing information. Had I been driving at the time, I'd definitely be watching for a car matching the description. Surface-street traffic always provides opportunities to take a quick glance at the phone.

I don't know about other areas, but here in So Calif (I live in Orange County, about 15 miles south of Long Beach), it's like one big city and it's much easier to avoid detection on surface streets than on the freeways (where there are lots of live traffic cams).

I'm thankful they've decided our phones can be used for this purpose. So much more important than letting me know a friend has just checked in at Starbucks...

I've seen this feature for almost a year on T-Mobile. It's very loud and obnoxious and doesn't respect your silent/vibrate setting. Not good if you're in an environment that demands silent devices (meetings, classes, testing centers, etc.).

I've had some alerts pop up with sporadic updates with almost no change in details which was again, very annoying.

It probably doesn't helpI live/work/study at my university and don't have a car, so it's very unlikely I will spot the kidnapped child. I'm only turning it off because it's not very useful it in its implementation and what I'd be able to do.

I have disabled the amber alerts, but I cannot seem to disable the presidential alerts.  I dont want any messages from Obama, and also, I am not a US citizen and not interested in their broadcasts.

I got one once that said a mother had "kidnapped" her own child!!

IF THE KID IS WITH HIS MOTHER, DONT MESSAGE ME!

 

I will not help you take the child from his mother!

I didn't even know about this until last night! lol I got an amber alert in the middle of the night, needless to say it scared the crap out of me! it was so loud I thought my phone was having a break down. I'm not gonna disable it simply because I know how serious Amber Alerts are.