Some cell phone customers in the Northeast received predawn alerts Friday warning them about the storm that was forecast to dump as much as 2 feet of snow.

The alerts, through the Wireless Emergency Alert system, allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service to deliver warnings to cell phone customers. The alerts are sent by FEMA, so wireless carriers don’t control when they go out.

The weather alerts, which make a piercing sound or a vibration on a wireless phone, are free. The system can also send alerts about missing children, and presidential alerts about any national security threat.

The technology was rolled out by most carriers last year, but not every provider has introduced it in every market.

In Maine, Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel reported sending alerts to customers Friday morning.

Other wireless carriers in the area did not respond to calls for comment Friday.


Michele Stapelton of Brunswick said she uses her phone as an alarm clock, so “it was a real surprise” when it went off at 3:39 a.m. Friday.

“It has a tone like the Emergency Broadcast System so it really got your attention,” said Stapelton. “I think it’s a great idea if it were a tornado or something impending. But not for a snowstorm.”

Suzanne Stowbridge of Standish said she would prefer to have settings for the service so she could block it during certain hours or set a certain tone for the alarm.

“There should be some way to have some kind of control over it,” she said.

Stowbridge, who is a high school teacher and a photographer, said, “My husband and I are both Verizon customers and we both got it at some god-awful hour this morning.

“The tone, well, it sounded like an air raid siren,” she said. “And it wasn’t short and quick. It went on and on, and that made it worse.”


Some older phones don’t support the alerts. For the alert to appear, a device must have its global positioning system activated. Some tablets with text messaging capabilities can receive wireless emergency alerts.

The alerts are sent to devices within a certain distance of a cell phone tower.

If a subscriber is outside the alert area, the phone will not get an alert.

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

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