Amber, emergency, and public safety alerts on an iPhone are noisy – even scare-you-dead-hard. They can happen anytime, day or night, and sometimes back to back when you’re in a big city. Those blaring sirens can wake you up, interrupt an important meeting, or disrupt an entire movie theater halfway through a movie, but you can turn most of them off if you’re tired of hearing them.
If you’ve never seen any of these alarming alerts, they look like other notifications you receive on your iPhone, except they are accompanied by a loud noise – even if you have Do Not Disturb turned on. Below are some examples of government warnings in the United States (left) and Canada (right).
Before we get right into turning off the deafening alarms, it’s worth pointing out how useful they can be and why you should only turn them off temporarily. Yes, they can be so annoying, frustrating and shocking that they can trigger panic attacks, angry attacks and even car wrecks, but they are designed to save lives.
Why should you consider keeping these warnings?
You could see and hear five major types of government alerts on your iPhone: Amber, Emergency, Public Safety, President, and Test. All of these warnings and warnings are issued by government agencies and take place in a specific mobile coverage zone in a locally targeted area. They don’t use GPS to track you – they are broadcast through cell towers in the affected place – so you can get them wherever you are whether you live there or not.
Federal, state, local, and tribal government agencies and public security officers send these alerts through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) to wireless providers, who then send the alerts to devices in the targeted area. These warnings are limited to 360 characters on supported devices.
The shocking alerts you see on your iPhone come through the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system, which is operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service (NWS)), which also maintains the Emergency Alert System (EAS), the system that distributes alerts to non-wireless devices such as “radio and television broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio and television providers, and cable video providers.”
- Amber: AMBER is an acronym for “America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response,” which EAS uses to transmit vital details of very recent child abduction cases. These details could include a name or description of the kidnapped child, name or description of the kidnapper, license plate or description of the vehicle in which the child was last seen, and more. In some cases, they may include a photo of the kidnapper, kidnapper or car. These alerts are sent as soon as possible to aid in the recovery of a missing or abducted child. Amber Alerts aren’t just for kids, either – they can be sent for a person’s disappearance. And some lawmakers are trying to include hit-and-runs in Amber Alerts as well.
- Emergency: These alerts are for things that are considered immediate threats. The most common are extreme weather events and life-threatening natural disasters, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, monsoons, earthquakes, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, thunderstorms, tsunamis, mudslides, extreme heat, and significant or catastrophic flash floods. You can also see these warnings used for man-made disasters, active shooters and terrorist attacks.
- Public safety: These less severe alerts are for threats that are not believed to be an immediate threat or for threats that occur after an immediate threat has occurred. Examples include “shelter in place” advice and “boiling water” warnings. States and local governments are even using public safety warnings to issue important pandemic coronavirus messages, such as when large spikes in COVID-19 cases occur in a specific area and where to get tested.
- Presidential: Of all the alerts listed, presidential alerts are the only ones you can never take out and are likely to be sent nationally rather than regionally. These alerts are issued by the President of the United States or a designated person and are only intended for national emergencies, such as a national terrorist attack or nuclear invasion.
- Test: Government agencies and officials use these alerts only to verify the functionality of any of the above types of alerts. These are opt-out, which you see below.
All of these warnings are designed to save lives, be it someone else’s or your own. Still, there may be situations where you need to disable them, and that’s entirely possible on an iPhone.
When do these alerts work on your iPhone?
As mentioned before, these alerts show up as a notification and the sound goes off when one is issued, and that includes when you have Do Not Disturb turned on. However, if you have your iPhone in silent mode, you won’t hear the deafening sound, but you will receive the notification. So if you just want to keep the noise out, consider using the silent mode more often. Otherwise, you can turn off the warnings completely.
Disable amber, emergency and public safety alerts
To turn off government alerts on your iPhone, go to the Settings app, then go to ‘Notifications’. Scroll down and you will see the three types of government warnings: “AMBER warnings”, “Emergency warnings” and “Public safety warnings”. These are all enabled by default. To turn off any or all of them, simply tap the switch to the right of each switch.
Disable test emergency alerts on your iPhone
If you live in the United States and have a subscription with a US carrier, or if you are visiting the US with a US-based SIM card, you can receive emergency test alerts. These are similar to the regular government alerts, except they are tests designed to test the system and prepare you for an actual emergency. Local authorities determine the frequency of these warnings, as well as the content.
Although these test emergency alerts are disabled by default, you may have enabled them in the past. How you might ask? To enable test emergency alerts, you need to dial the dialer code * 5005 * 25371 # using the phone keypad on your iPhone. Fortunately, disabling test emergency alerts is very similar:
Call that number from your Phone app and a warning will appear that says ‘Test alerts disabled’ indicating the alerts have been disabled.
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