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Emergency alerts and Android: What you need to know

Amber Alert on Android
Amber Alert on Android (Image credit: Android Central)

Every so often — or frequently, depending on your tolerance level — you get an emergency alert on your phone. That horrible blaring of the emergency tone, the buzzing the vibration motor, and then the grim news. Someone's missing. Or there's a severe weather alert headed your way. Suddenly and without warning, your phone's scaring the hell out of you. It's bad enough during the day, and downright dreadful in the dead of night.

And that's the idea.

The U.S. carriers have worked with the federal government to come up with a way to push alerts to your Android smartphone to warn you about dangerous weather, missing persons or other matters of grave national importance. The point is they want you to see this information in hopes that it could save your life — or someone else's.

Here's what you need to know about these emergency alerts and how you can control them on your Android phone.

What kind of emergency alerts are there?

Android emergency broadcast alerts

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

There are three (or four, depending on how you're counting) types of emergency alerts you can receive on your Android. They're grouped into the less-dangerous-sounding "Cell Broadcast" heading, and include:

  • Extreme threats: Classified as threats to your life and property, such as an impending catastrophic weather event like a hurricane, tornado or tsunami.
  • Severe threats: Less serious than the extreme threats, these could be the same types of situations, but on a smaller scale — a reason to stay safe, but not evacuate or take extreme measures.
  • AMBER alerts: These are specific alerts aimed at locating a missing child. Technically AMBER stands for "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response." But it was named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old who was kidnapped and killed in 1996. AMBER alerts will include as much information as the authorities currently have available, giving you the location of the alert, and often a vehicle description including a license plate number.
  • Presidential alerts: These alerts will often fall into the "extreme threats" category, but are issued directly by the President of the United States (or through their office) and cannot be turned off in your phone's settings.

What does an emergency or AMBER alert sound like?

It's loud and annoying — particularly if you have a phone with really good speakers. But it will really catch your attention if you're with several people who all have their phones out!

You'll likely also find your phone is vibrating when an alert is issued, though some phones let you turn off vibration.

How can I turn off emergency alerts on my Android?

Android emergency broadcast alerts

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Though you don't have a choice as to whether you receive the presidential alerts, you can turn off the other types of alerts. We would recommend leaving them on, though, as the information could help you (or help you help someone else) in a time of danger. But if you want to familiarize yourself with the settings or tweak their parameters, there are options you can use.

The settings will be found in a different place depending on what phone you have (yay, Android!) but the common theme is that the settings will be called "Cell Broadcasts" or "Emergency alerts." The best way to start looking for them is to open up your settings, and if you have a search function to simply type in "broadcasts" or "emergency" — chances are the phone will present you with the settings right away. If you don't have a search function, look under your sound, notification or display settings.

On Samsung phones, emergency alert settings are found in the default Messages app. Go to the Messaging app's menu, settings, and then "Emergency alert settings" to configure the options.

Depending on your phone, you'll be able to toggle each of the alerts independently, choose how they alert you and whether or not they vibrate when you receive one. Newer phones will even give you the option to turn on or off tests of the emergency alert system.

If you want to learn more about how emergency alerts are handled, we've compiled a group of handy resources:

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

42 Comments
  • I literally just got an amber alert on my phone less than 10 min ago.
  • As opposed to figuratively?
  • No one should turn them off.
  • Most newer Android phones are wireless emergency alert capable. Some alerts you cannot turn off. While on a commuter train this afternoon, my phone received an Ambert Alert for 2 kidnap kids in Maryland. It made a loud annoying noise.
  • This now applies to Canada as well, except our alert tone is slightly different (but still annoying - which again is the point). Granted, I think bugs are still being worked out here, and only specific phones are compatible right now.
  • I turned all of my alerts off. Don't preach to me.
  • +1
  • We don't get these over here, but we don't get most of the horrible things they warn about either. I'm honestly surprised president Fart doesn't use this system to complain about and attempt to discredit people who say mean things about him... He probably just hasn't thought of it.
  • Kids don't go missing in the UK? There's no crime? You might want to learn some facts because as of 2017, missing kids and people in the UK hit an all time high. But you ignore facts because it doesn't fit your narrative.
    There's nothing high and mighty about the UK on the world stage. They were put in their place in 1776 and it can happen again.
  • A quote from my original comment: "Most" You might want to learn to read properly. I was talking about natural disasters and severe weather. Things like tornados, severe hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, 45° heat waves et al, which, regardless of your "facts", we do not experience here... And you talk about spinning a narrative? lol, you're the one putting words in people's mouths so you can create your own ripping yarn! Defensive much? I detect dissatisfaction in the camp of the jingoistic pleb (that's you).
  • We don't have any problems in the U.K. No tornado's, no hurricanes, no gun crime, no missing people, perfect! Ok people do go missing! Kind regards Richard U.K
  • Nothing here on VZW Pixel 2 XL. On vibrate. Not even a notification. Even checked my history, nothing. And my alerts are turned on. All the way down. While checking, I got a sever weather alert. Lol. Screenshot it, but no way to share here.
  • My Android 5.1 phone is apparently too old, even though my previous two phones seemed to have no problems with alerts.
  • Phones before 2015 may not have wireless emergency alert capabilties
  • Can't really read today's presidential alert--likely due to dark themes enabled on my Galaxy S9. Not a problem for any other text messages.
  • On the ZTE Blade X, running Android 7.1.1, the Wireless Emergency Alert settings are found in the messaging app that came with the phone. Of course, the Presidential Alert is greyed out preventing you from disabling it. Today, I received my alert at 2:18 PM
  • I got the presidential alert at 2:18 pm today, and I was in the basement of a 6 story aluminum paneled building! From what I read, it's the first time this particular system has been used.
  • Golly, all these alerts, no wonder people in that country are wary...
  • Where are the various alerts stored on the phone? How can I find a log of the date/time, and the text content?
    I remember 1984 (both literarily and literally), and this seems to take us one step closer to that Orwellian future.
  • I got the alert, but my son did not on his S7. Is that device not supported by the system?
  • I like the Amber alert.
    What are the letters & numbers tha show after descrption of car?
  • That's typically the make/model and license plate #.
  • Las Vegas abuses the Amber alerts as they did here very late last night. They used Extreme Threat for what should be an Amber Alert. Idiots in government showing their power. I turned off all alerts as a result.
  • Does anybody know how to get rid of an outdated (6 months) flash flood warning that shows up everytime I reboot my phone? I have not received any other alerts since this one became apparently stuck. Which makes the whole system useless.
  • You could look for the emergency alerts app in your settings (through the app/storage manager) and clear its data and/or force stop it. Worth a shot.
  • Everyone should have the alert. Could be their child missing.
  • In theory, that's a great plan. In reality, I get Amber Alerts from 300 miles away. No thanks.
  • Mine are turned off for the same reason; not local is probably not going to be seen by me.
  • I've been trying to turn off the amber alerts.
    Samsung Note 8, latest software update as of 2 days ago and can NOT find anything about being able disable emergency alerts, searching thru both settings and finder
  • Have you looked in the Messages app, as described in the article?
  • I have a Galaxy S8. I do not receive these alerts and cannot find them in settings! Anyone else in this boat, or any suggestions for turning them on will be appreciated.
  • You must be using Messenger app to get these alerts on the S8.
  • Many of the service Disabler apps can easily shutdown the presidential alerts 😎. Would not doubt it is a crime though
  • Cant find it in setting on my Galaxy S8, running Android 9. Suggestion?
  • The only thing you need to know is how to deactivate all that nonsense. Presidential alerts is the only thing that can't but fortunately there aren't that many!
  • Why would you want to deactivate them?
  • Once you've been woken up at 4 AM by an Amber Alert from 117+ miles away then you'll understand.
  • And then later you read that the children were located safe and sound with some family member later that day. You get numb to them as so many are not necessary unfortunately.
  • Turning them off puts your life in danger but 🤷🏾‍♂️
  • We have the same thing in the U.K now, well something like it, easy enough to disable it via the Wireless emergency alerts option in the security part of settings.
    We don't have a president, but there is extreme and severe alerts and to be honest, I doubt we will have them here unless we the city goes on fire, we don't have extreme storms, and we don't normally get earth quakes. I have disabled them all on my phone, I am shocked that we are allowed to disable them.
  • I turned Amber Alerts off. I live near the intersection of two interstate highways. We get Amber Alerts from as far away as 500 miles in all directions along those highways. It became too disruptive and annoying.
  • Emergency alerts was some how deleted off my phone. How can I get it back