Watch CBS News

Questions Being Asked About Emergency Alert System

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — That loud noise on your cell phone with an urgent message is called a Wireless Emergency Alert.

It's the most thorough system we have to warn people of danger. But as KCAL9/CBS2's Craig Herrera reports, it is becoming controversial because of three recent events.

First, the Sonoma County fires. Thousands of homes were destroyed. Neighborhoods were leveled. An alert was never activated.

"There has to be a system that understands the consequences and the risks," said Ali Abbas, director of the Neely Center for Decisions and Ethics.

Next, the Montecito mudslides. An alert went out at 3:50 in the morning. The wall of mud came roaring down 10 minutes later. Some people believe that was not enough time to get to a safe place.

The third happened last weekend in Hawaii when alerts went out statewide scaring people that a ballistic missile was on the way. The last line? "This is not a drill."

"We have this closet underneath the stairs so we were throwing in supplies like water and like food," said Ashley Endo, a USC student who was home in Hawaii.

It was a terrifying 38 minutes before the second alert was sent out confirming there was no threat.

Abbas says we don't want to have a "cry wolf" situation with these alerts.

"It's hard enough to get people to move when they trust the system, image now if they don't trust the system," said Abbas.

Jeff Reeb, director of the L.A. County of Emergency Management says an erroneous alert like what happened in Hawaii would not go out here.

"We have a system that allows us to have a second person authentication before we send out an alert," said Reeb.

Related: What Went Wrong With Hawaii's False Emergency Alert?

But that could also create problems.

"What if that second person that is needed to confirm, what if something happens to them? Then it's never going to trigger," said Abbas.

Abbas says a study would help understand the system so more work can be done to improve it.

There is a website you can visit called  You can register to get emergency alerts, pick a language you want those alerts to come in and get more information to help prepare for these types of emergencies.


View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.