Why Did an AMBER Alert Appear on My iPhone?

Emergency Alerts on the iPhone

If you hear a loud, unfamiliar, sound on your iPhone, don’t panic.  The iPhone and other smartphones are capable of broadcasting emergency alerts, AMBER Alerts, and other national emergency information.

We are all familiar with the emergency broadcast system, which interrupts television and radio broadcasts whenever there is a public safety announcement.  With so many of us constantly on the go, less people are likely to see these emergency broadcasts.  In an effort to reach more people in case of an emergency, the wireless industry, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) developed a new system to distribute emergency information to cell phones.  The new system is Broadcast SMS, which can send one message to many recipients without the delays of a traditional point-to-point system.

Since iOS 6, iPhones have been capable of receiving Commercial Mobile Alert Service (CMAS) messages, also known as Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA).  Major wireless carriers are working to implement this technology, but not all companies are currently broadcasting alerts to all customers.  Verizon and AT&T provide the service in most locations nationwide.  Your wireless carrier can provide more detailed information on their WEA service.

AMBER Alert Notice


According to the CTIA website, there are three different kinds of alerts:

Imminent Threat Alerts

Alerts that include severe man-made or natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc., where an imminent threat to life or property exists.

AMBER Alerts

Alerts that meet the U.S. Department of Justice’s criteria to help law enforcement search for and locate an abducted child.

Presidential Alerts

Alerts issued by the President or a designee.


The AMBER Alerts are issued to a particular area.  Any WEA capable phone in that area will receive the alert.  If you were on a business trip in a different city, you would receive alerts for that area.

An iPhone must be using at least iOS 6 to receive WEA notifications.



How to Turn Off Alerts

It is possible to turn off emergency alerts and AMBER Alerts by opening the Settings app and selecting Notifications.

Notifications iCon


At the bottom of the screen, you should see a section for Government Alerts.  Here you can select the settings for AMBER Alerts and Emergency Alerts.  If the Government Alerts section is not visible on your iPhone, your wireless carrier does not yet provide WEA notifications to the iPhone.

Government Alerts


According to the WARN Act of 1996, Consumers may opt out of Imminent Threat and AMBER alerts, but Congress said that no consumer could opt out of Presidential Alerts.

There is no cost to consumers for receiving WEA notifications.

More information can be found on the CTIA website.



How to View the Alert After You Unlock the iPhone

The alert normally appears on the lock screen when the iPhone is not being used. Once you unlock the iPhone, the alert disappears. To view the alert after unlocking the iPhone, open the Notification Center. You can view the Notification Center at any time by swiping down from the top of the screen. All recent alerts and notifications are displayed and can be customized.  For more information on the Notification Center, see my detailed article about customizing the iPhone notifications.

Exit the Notification Center by swiping up from the bottom of the screen or pressing the Home button.