How does Amber Alert Work?

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  • #1
anorlunda
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A year ago, we switched to Consumer Cellular. Since then, my wife and I have been getting Amber Alerts for the state of Colorado. We live in Florida, and Vermont. Our area codes are 518. We have no connection to Colorado.

I just talked with Consumer Cellular customer service. They say that they have no role in amber alerts. They suggested that I remove and reseat the SIM card. or do a factory reset. That sounds like a wrong approach because we have two phones acting the same way.

I always assumed that alerts like that depended on your actual location. "Alert all phones in contact with this local cell tower." But I'm very sure that we are not in contact with a tower in Colorado, 1500 miles away, so that must not be true.

So how does amber alert work? Who administers it? Who could I complain to about getting alerts for the wrong state?
 

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  • #2
phinds
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Have you tried going to the Colorado state website and poking around? Might have a complaint hot-line or a suggestion box or something useful.
 
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  • #3
anorlunda
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The Colorado Bureau of Investigation does it, but their website says that the emergency alerts use the federal WEA (wireless emergency alert) system run by Homeland Security. The WEA site offers nothing useful.

https://www.ready.gov/alerts

I could be in morass of nameless faceless government bureaucrats.

I still suspect Consumer Cellular (CC), because this began just after we switched to them. I suspect that they provide the phone numbers and customer data for all new customers to someone in government, but who? CC's customer service department probably has no awareness of this.

In this modern world, if you have a consumer question that it not a FAQ, getting answers is hard.
 
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phinds
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I could be in morass of nameless faceless government bureaucrats.
Ah, jeez, just kill yourself now; it's likely to be more fun.
 
  • #5
berkeman
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I used to get Amber Alerts as part of my EMS PulsePoint push notifications, but they were way too obnoxious, so I turned them off. I'm not sure where I did that (In PulsePoint, in my local county Alerts [Alameda County, Santa Clara County], etc.?) I'll check to see if I can see what I turned off...
 
  • #6
berkeman
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Nothing under my PulsePoint settings, but there look to be lots of links via a Google search. Have you sorted through all of these already? (probably yes)

https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=amber+alert+notifications

1580350385382.png
 
  • #7
Klystron
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Ah, jeez, just kill yourself now; it's likely to be more fun.
Wait, please! Before you pull that switch, consider carrying an Android phone; a fate worse than death to some Apple folk.:smile:

My G-phone in Spring Valley allows me to control most alerts, such as "Sunny in Spring Valley! Again, today!". :cool:
 
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  • #8
Ygggdrasil
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Authorized public safety officials send WEA alerts through FEMA's Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) to participating wireless carriers, which then push the alerts to compatible mobile devices in the affected area.
https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/wireless-emergency-alerts-wea

Ultimately, the alerts are coming from your wireless carrier, so it's likely Consumer Cellular's fault if you're getting alerts from the wrong geographic area.
 
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  • #9
sysprog
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https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/wireless-emergency-alerts-wea

Ultimately, the alerts are coming from your wireless carrier, so it's likely Consumer Cellular's fault if you're getting alerts from the wrong geographic area.
The carrier may be using a different set of sources -- there are many possible forwarders: https://amberalert.ojp.gov/resources/amber-alert-secondary-distributors

Perhaps the carrier's local filtering of alerts may prevent foreign alerts from being sent to any of the carrier's own banks of new-customer numbers, may be failing to include your imported number in its do-not-forward-foreign-alerts customer list.

It may be that one or both of the phones' pre-or-post-sale histories includes something to do with the location.
 
  • #10
chemisttree
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T-Mobile had the same problem and they determined it was due to a “Provisioning Mismatch” in the CMAS database. This is definitely on Consumer Cellular.

“Customers may experience issues with receiving Wireless Emergency Alerts, (Weather, Flooding, AMBER alerts etc.) that may not pertain to their geographical area due to a provisioning mismatch. Engineering has identified this issue and is currently been directed to Provisioning Team to update the cell provisioning in CMAS database.”

https://community.t-mobile.com/thread/140918
 
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  • #11
anorlunda
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Thanks all. If one asks a question properly, it is amazing how much knowledge is on tap from PF members.

@sysprog 's link shows that responsibility is shared with a large number of secondary forwarders (including even Walgreens :rolleyes: :oldsurprised:). So the idea of a single citizen like me tracking down the error in all copies of the CMAS database and getting it fixed is practically impossible.

It seems like an odd choice to maintain lists of numbers at all. Those alerts are always valid only for a geographical location. If I designed it, I would ask each tower to broadcast to all phones within its ping range regardless of the phone number. Probably the flaw there is that your phone may be pinged by more than one tower in the same area.
 
  • #12
sysprog
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Thanks all. If one asks a question properly, it is amazing how much knowledge is on tap from PF members.

@sysprog 's link shows that responsibility is shared with a large number of secondary forwarders (including even Walgreens :rolleyes: :oldsurprised:). So the idea of a single citizen like me tracking down the error in all copies of the CMAS database and getting it fixed is practically impossible.

It seems like an odd choice to maintain lists of numbers at all. Those alerts are always valid only for a geographical location. If I designed it, I would ask each tower to broadcast to all phones within its ping range regardless of the phone number. Probably the flaw there is that your phone may be pinged by more than one tower in the same area.
An Amber Alert (in EAS-CAP IPAWS Profile form) contains a 'geocode' location field, and unless the alert is intended to be nationwide, it includes at least a 5-digit SSCCC County Code number, and possibly further precision geospatial information. The geocode is normally where the initial event occurred. Information about other locations can be in other geocode tags in the alert.

The service providers (carriers) use the location code to determine where and to which phones to send the alert. Presumably that should include wherever you are, assuming you're in one of their coverage areas, but it may also include where you live, even when you're far from home. The latter purpose requires mapping between locations and numbers. It's possible that somewhere in the system there is a mis-map between your number and your location. The fact that this started happening only after you switched carriers suggests that if such a mis-map is the culprit, then probably either it's in the carrier's own database, or it's in some external one that it uses and that your prior carrier didn't use.
 
  • #13
Ygggdrasil
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From the FCC website:
The alerts are broadcast to the geographic area affected by an emergency. This means that if an alert is sent to a zone in New York, WEA-capable mobile devices in that zone can receive the alert, even if they are roaming or visiting from another state. In other words, a customer visiting from Chicago would be able to receive alerts in New York so long as the person has a WEA-enabled mobile device in the alert zone.

WEA alerts are more geographically precise than ever before. When the WEA program launched, participating wireless providers were generally required to send the alerts to a geographic area no larger than the county or counties affected by the emergency situation. Then, beginning in November 2017, participating wireless providers were required to transmit alerts to a geographic area that best approximated the area affected by the emergency situation, even if it was smaller than a county. Now, beginning in December 2019, participating wireless providers must improve geotargeting of alerts even further. Specifically, providers must deliver the alerts to the area specified by the alert originator with no more than a 1/10 of a mile overshoot.

The last section suggests a complaint to the FCC could be an appropriate remedy as it suggests the carrier may be violating FCC rules by sending inappropriate alerts to the OP.
 

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