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AT&T adds wireless emergency alerts update to iPhones

Those users with an iPhone 5 or 4S will now get messages that let them know when there is a natural disaster, Amber alert, or presidential alert in their area.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read
AT&T rolls out wireless emergency alerts for iPhones. AT&T

AT&T announced that it is rolling out wireless emergency alerts to all of its U.S. customers that have an iPhone 5 or 4S.

This means that anytime there is a government-issued safety announcement, like when there's natural or man-made disaster, a presidential alert, or an Amber alert for a missing child, a message will pop up on users iPhones explaining what's happening.

Such alerts are critical for getting information out to people who aren't immediately tuned into a television or radio, and would have been helpful during disasters such as the floods from Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, or the September 11 attacks.

These alerts are geographically targeted, so, for example, users in Florida won't get messages about North Dakota.

To get the alerts, users will have to update their phones with AT&T's new software -- this update should appear on iPhones automatically. The update will only be sent over-the-air to users with iOS 6.1 or higher. Those users with an iPhone 5 or 4S but not on iOS 6.1 or higher will get the update when they plug their device into iTunes.

For those users who don't want to get these alerts, it's possible to turn off most of them. In the iPhone's settings, under notifications, users can toggle off Amber and emergency alerts. However, there's no way to turn off the presidential alerts.

"Wireless Emergency Alerts are part of the FCC's CMAS program and are mandated by law," AT&T wrote in a blog post. "While the software update is mandatory, you are not charged for the data to deliver it and Wireless Emergency Alerts will never count against your messaging plan."

Last year, it was revealed that Apple had been working on adding national alerts software to iOS 6. The push for alerts to appear on phones has gone on for a while and several manufacturers have already put the feature into their phones.