RENO, NEV. (KRNV & MyNews4.com)--The FCC and FEMA have teamed up with some cell phone providers to send out emergency alerts when there's severe weather or an Amber alert. The first wave of alerts was sent out to thousands of cell phone users Monday night.
On Monday night, just before 7pm, some cell phone users received an alert that read "Dust Storm Warning in this area til 9:00 PM PDT. Avoid travel. Check local media. -NWS"
Chris Smallcomb, a Meteorologist with the National Weather Service says dust storms can be very dangerous and the warning can cover a large area.
"It can reduce visibilities less than a quarter of a mile, even a few 100 feet to near zero. Of course people are driving along and they hit it like they hit fog and they can't see in front of them and that's how you get these major accidents," says Smallcomb.
The National Weather Service issued a dust storm warning for Lyon County, Churchill County, and parts of Washoe County.
The warning, called "WEA," also known as the "wireless emergency alert", was sent to smart phones with certain providers in every one of those counties. Since Washoe County was included in that, the warning went through every cell phone tower in the county, even towers on Lake Tahoe got the warning.
This type of notification system is new for our area.
"I would hope that they don't think it's an invasion of privacy, it is an attempt by FEMA to make sure they have information to stay safe," says Adrienne Abbott, the State Chair of the Emergency Alert System.
The warning was pretty vague, it didn't give an exact location. Abbott says the reason is because cell phone providers have put a character limit on the alerts, 72 characters.
"This is a messaging system that is separate from the normal text messaging, this is what they told the Federal Government we feel we can handle in this particular circumstance," says Abbott.
Another alert warning of a flash flood was sent out around 4:15pm on Tuesday.
"The really cool thing is it's based on your current location so you can be traveling in an area that's far away from home and you'll get alerted to a potential weather threat," says Smallcomb.
Viewers have told News 4 that they received an alert on Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. We're told the alert goes to smart phones. If you didn't receive one, make sure your notifications are turned on. If you'd like to opt out, you'll have to contact your wireless provider.