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Why Some West Hartford Residents Didn’t Receive Wireless Emergency Alerts

Screenshot of text alert, Saturday, June 22, 2024

West Hartford’s Office of Emergency Management provides details about Wireless Emergency Alerts.

By Ronni Newton

Just before 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 22, 2024, cellphones in West Hartford began blaring – producing a loud alarm followed by an audio message about a tornado warning for the area. The verbal message was also accompanied by a text alert.

Tornado warnings in the West Hartford area are uncommon, but amid some very unstable air and strong thunderstorms, the scenario repeated itself on Sunday, June 23, around 5:50 p.m.

West Hartford Deputy Emergency Management Director Bob McCue said Monday that the Emergency Management Office had received some calls wondering why they didn’t receive the alerts, so he did some research.

“The National Weather Service sends out Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) during threats of extreme weather,” McCue said in an email. “A WEA is an emergency message sent out by authorized governmental agencies through mobile carriers. No sign-ups are required as these are sent automatically to WEA-capable cellphones. These alerts are sent to cell towers in the area where the emergency is occurring, and all cellphones in that area will receive them.”

A key point is that the alerts go through the cellphone towers, so if you’re a West Hartford residents but were outside of the area that was under a tornado warning, you would not have received the alert. Those who are from out of the area but were in West Hartford (or another town in the warning area), and who have the WEA feature enabled, would have received an alert on Saturday or Sunday.

“Most phone built after 2012 have [WEA] capability,” McCue said, although flip phones do not have the capability. Some phones come with the WEA alert turned “off” as a default, so it’s a good idea to check under your notification settings. You can also ensure that AMBER alerts, public safety alerts, and test alerts are turned “on.”

In addition to having the WEA alerts turned off, McCue said the reasons that a resident may not have received the tornado warning include:

  • They were not physically in West Hartford.
  • They have a phone that is not equipped to receive WEA alerts.
  • They were making a phone call (the alert will not override a conversation)
  • The phone was in the “Do Not Disturb “setting.
Emergency alerts will override other phone applications that are open – including if you are listening to music or watching a video. National alerts, McCue said, will override any settings and you will receive them even if alerts are turned off.

More information about Wireless Emergency Alerts can be found online at ready.gov.

McCue also noted that it’s important not only to be able to receive Wireless Emergency Alerts, which are separate from the State of Connecticut’s “CT Alert” system and West Hartford’s Community Advisory Notification System. He urged residents to sign up for state alerts by clicking here and local alerts here.

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