Why did my iPhone receive a Presidential Alert?

Emergency Broadcast System

This afternoon many iPhone owners across the US are wondering why their devices received two emergency notification tests. So-called Presidential Alerts are sent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to all wireless subscribers nationwide. Unlike normal Emergency Alerts and AMBER Alerts, these Presidential Alerts cannot be turned off.

Today's test of the system started rolling out Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) notifications to iPhones and other mobile devices starting at 2:18 PM Eastern time. A second message blasted out of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) at 2:20 PM Eastern time. Unlike standard Notifications, these emergency alerts can still be received by cellular devices that aren't activated or have no SIM card installed.

Normally the WEA system is used to deliver specific warnings about weather, missing children (AMBER alerts) or other life-threatening issues to an affected area of the country. The EAS has been developed to communicate emergency information to cellular phones nationwide, making it possible for FEMA and the White House to address as many persons as possible in the event of a serious situation.

Emergency alert notifications made the news in January when Hawaii residents received a bogus inbound missile alert on their smartphones. Often during local storm events, National Weather Service (NWS) alerts regarding flooding and other risks are delivered to devices in affected areas.

While today's test notifications and future Presidential Alerts are delivered to everyone, there are some WEA messages that can be turned off. Click here for instructions on how to disable Emergency Alerts on your iPhone.

In the meantime, look for similar alerts in 2021. Emergency notification tests are scheduled to occur every three years.