iOS 6 Delivers Emergency Alerts to iPhone Users

When iOS 6 arrives on the iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS this year it will bring many amazing features, but one of the best new features is compatibility with the new national cell phone emergency alert system.

This system is part of the Safe Port act signed into law by George Bush, relying on Broadcast SMS to push notifications to smartphones for weather threats, Amber alerts and Presidential alerts. The system went live in New York City at the end of 2011, and should be live in most of the United States.

Emergency Alert iPhone iOS 6

What Emergency Alerts look like on the iPhone with iOS 6.

Apple didn’t play up the feature in the announcement at WWDC 2012, but thanks to a bout of severe weather I discovered that iOS 6 turns on emergency alerts for the iPhone.


Why are Cell Phone Emergency Alerts So Important?

In my case, my smartphone is one of the only device left with a complete charge after five days without power. Thankfully I have a place to stay with power, but when another round of storms came through I was in a pitch black house and the only clue I had about the severity of the weather was the notification on my iPhone 4S running the iOS 6 beta. My wife’s iPhone 4S received broadcast alert, though a local news app provided an alert shortly after.

The alert is not tied to iOS or to smartphones, my father in law’s flip phone emitted a high-pitched squeal and showed a similar warning. Check out the flash flood alert shown below.

Emergency Alert in iOS 6 Notification Center

Emergency Alert in iOS 6 Notification Center.

I did not hear any noise for the alert, likely because my phone was on silent. I’m hoping this type of alert can override the silent setting as I normally keep my phone in silent mode overnight.


The iOS 6 beta allows users to turn the settings on or off, and provides separate controls for emergency alerts and Amber alerts.

Emergency Alert Toggle iOS 6

iOS 6 allows users to turn off Emergency Alerts.

These emergency alerts are incredibly useful because they will be on by default for many smartphones, and rely on tower location to know who to alert. If a visitor was in my neighborhood on vacation their phone would also receive the notification, without the need to sign up for alerts.

Unfortunately the notification is not interactive. Tapping on the message will not direct the user to more information about the current emergency.


  1. Steve says

    Nice article except you never once mentioned the part about the President’s alert messages. Why are they included in this service and why is it the only one that you cannot turn off?

    Think about it.

    • Beck says

      Presidential alerts are so rare that in the 50+ years that broadcasters have been using emergency alerting protocols there hasn’t been a single instance it’s been used. So rare in fact that it was only tested once. Theoretically they’re to be used to warn the public of an incoming nuclear attack or some other event of equal significance. It isn’t political.

  2. tjELITE says

    He’s tracking us all with the iPad 3000 givin to him by Steve Jobs…if you didn’t figure that out yet.

  3. Zachary says

    I have the iphone 4. I updated to the ios 6.0.1 and I was wandering how I enable this setting on my iphone? If somebody can please help that world be great. Thanks

  4. Anneliese says

    How do you turn this feature off. That thing woke me up at 2 am like a bomb attack sound. It almost killed me of a heart attack

    • jules says

      so where is it then? with the latest software update (and an Amber Alert yesterday that did not appear on my phone), I cannot find it.

  5. reg says

    one was issued in NY today – for the upcoming snow storm. Not everyone in the office with an iphone got one. Verizon and Sprint are participating. AT&T did not provide an alert.

  6. Emily says

    I just got one five minutes ago, because of the snow storm. I have Verizon. Thankfully my phone is set to vibrate, but the buzzing still woke me up from a sound sleep, and overrode my “Do Not Disturb” setting. (A lovely feature, by the way!) This is the first one I’ve received. Though I didn’t get one for Hurricane Sandy, come to think of it. I’ve had iOS 6 for awhile, and have had the alert option since downloading it.

  7. Joseph says

    Where are the alerts stored? If I unlock my phone after I receive an alert, the alert vanishes.

  8. Bob says

    Damn I wish I could turn off the flash flood warnings and keep the tornado warnings active. I read that many carriers allow the user to choose only extreme alerts (tornado etc), and not the severe (flash flood, snow). Apparently either AT&T or IPhone is not one.

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