Why Didn’t My Phone Get the Presidential Alert?

Presidential alert

Getty A customer inspects an iPhone.

People across the nation received a Presidential Alert today from Wireless Emergency Alert System (WEA). However, not everyone with a cell phone will actually get the message. If you didn’t get the Presidential Alert, there are several possible reasons why. About 25 percent of phones are expected to not receive the Presidential Alert, and some AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile customers are reporting that they didn’t get the alert at all, even though those carriers are opted into the WEA system. Here’s a list of reasons why you might not have gotten an alert today.

You Didn’t Get the Presidential Alert if Your Phone Isn’t WEA Compatible

Only phones that are WEA compatible, turned on, and within range of an active cell tower will actually get the message. So if your phone isn’t compatible (usually if it’s a really old phone), then you won’t get the message.

On a list provided by AT&T, for example, the only phone they offer that is not WEA compatible is the Samsung Gear S. The Cisco AT&T Microcell is also not WEA capable. And according to Verizon, all iPhones are WEA capable as long as they are using iOS 6 or later.

You Didn’t Get the Presidential Alert if Your Wireless Provider Isn’t Participating in the WEA System

A wireless provider must also be participating in the WEA in order to receive the test message. All major carriers, like AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile, are participating in the WEA System. Cricket is participating too. But some smaller carriers or regional carriers might not be. You can go to the carrier’s website or call their customer service number to find out if they’re not taking part in the WEA system.

Some customers, however, are reporting that they didn’t get the message even though they have a WEA compatible phone and their carrier has opted into the WEA system.

If Your Phone Was Turned Off or Out of Range of a Cell Phone Tower, You Might Miss the Message

If your phone was turned off or out of range of a cell phone tower at the time the message is sent, then you’ll also miss out on receiving the Presidential Alert, Accuweather reported. It’s possible you might not get the alert if you’re in airplane mode too.

Not All International Visitors Will Get the Alert

WEA is based on global standards, which means that some international visitors will get the WEA test alert but others won’t. It depends on their mobile device’s capabilities and if it’s WEA compatible, FEMA noted.

Some AT&T, Verizon, & T-Mobile Customers Are Saying They Didn’t Get the Alert Even Though They Were on a Compatible Phone & Near a Cell Phone Tower

Some AT&T customers are reporting that they didn’t get the alert. The reports are coming in from a number of iPhone users.  Others are also reporting not getting the alert, including customers with Verizon and T-Mobile who say they met all the criteria for receiving the alert. These reports are coming not just from iPhone users, but also Samsung customers and other phone brands as well.

Quite a few theories are circulating about what happened. Some say that if you had the emergency alerts option or AMBER alerts option turned off on your phone, you might not have received the Presidential Alert even though it was supposed to bypass this.

Others have noted that when they switched off their Wifi, they got the alert, or they did not receive the alert while listening to music for some reason. Others got the message, but not until they turned on LTE instead of 3G. Others received the message, but it came in five to 10 minutes later. There’s actually a 30-minute window where you can receive the message, so if you didn’t receive it by 2:38 p.m. Eastern, that can indicate an issue.

Being on the phone or in an active data session might have also affected how the alert worked, a representative of FEMA told Wired. “If a user is on a call, or with an active data session open on their phone, they might not have received the message.” However, in those situations, the message should have still come through, just later.

There’s also a chance that there was an issue with how the radio protocols that your cell phone carrier used interacted with your phone’s firmware, Wired reported. This is a little more of a technical explanation, but it was offered to Wired by David Simpson, former chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. All major carriers received FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System and sent it to their customers under a variety of protocols that vary by region or carrier. Simpson added that newer phones released after FEMA’s more recent local or state tests might react unexpectedly to the systems. That’s part of the reason why a test was run.

There is not an official reason yet for why some people who should have received the alert did not, but it does indicate that there were some glitches with the system. Today’s alert was testing the system, and so in that sense it may have uncovered a few bugs here and there. While some people didn’t get alerts at all, other people got five to 10 or even more identical alerts on a single phone.

Did you miss out on the alert? Let us know in the comments below, and then send an email to FEMA at FEMA-National-Test @fema.dhs.gov. Share the make and model of your phone, your carrier, and if your phone was in the same location 30 minutes after the test, and what happened to other people around you at the same time.

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